Thursday 14 June 2012

Broken Hill will host one half of the largest solar energy project in the southern hemisphere, it was announced today.
9 Jun 2012

The $450 million project will have an ultimate output of 159 MWs, enough to power 33,000 homes, and will be constructed across two sites; Broken Hill and Nyngan. The Broken Hill site will consist of nearly a million solar photovoltaic (Solar PV) panels and will be built to the west of the city. Construction is hoped to begin in 2014 and is expected to bring 150 jobs to Broken Hill and a further 300 to Nyngan. The solar farm is expected to be operating by 2015 and is a joint venture between the Federal and State Governments and Australian energy company AGL Energy.

"The Commonwealth will contribute $170 million and the NSW Government will contribute $65 million", Minister for Energy and Resources, Martin Ferguson said this morning. "Form the Australian Government's point of view, this is a very substantial project. "This go ahead to the project in Nyngan and Broken Hill is very very significant to the solar PV industry and also it represents a substantial statement by the Australian Government, not only in support of renewable energy but in our confidence of the development of the solar industry in Australia".

Minster Ferguson said a recent drop in the price of solar panels from places such as China meant the overall cost of the project, and therefore the government contribution, was reduced significantly. The Mayor of Broken Hill Wincen Cuy says the project will provide a welcome boost to the local economy. "It's an absolutely fabulous announcement for Broken Hill. "150 jobs (and), I'm lead to believe, somewhere between 150 and 200 million dollars invested into the community. "It's a great opportunity for Broken Hill to be, once again, put on the national stage as an innovator and a place to be and a place to come to work".

AGL Energy is also involved in the significant Silverton wind farm project just north of Broken Hill and Mayor Cuy says the city is now well on the way to being known as the renewable energies centre of Australia. "Broken Hill has been famed for the resources that it's been able to produce over the last 130 odd years. "Now we could d become the renewable capitol energy of Australia, how good would that be?" A spokesperson for AGL Energy says today's announcement represents the largest solar farm project Australia has ever seen. "The scale of these farms is impressive by any measure. "The total output of these farms is 159 MWs and to get that done we... are going to have to install about 2.5 million panels.

"Together with the Federal Government, the NSW Government and our partners FirstSolar, we'll be investing a total of close to half a billion dollars in these regional economies of Nyngan and Broken Hill". AGL Energy says the Broken Hill and Nyngan developments are important to the entire renewable energies industry. "It's important because at some point this decade, probably late this decade, it is possible that solar will supplant wind as the cheapest form of renewable generation".

Suzlon signs EoI to develop 2,500 mw of wind power capacity
7 Jun 2012

BANGALORE: wind turbine manufacturer Suzlon Energy Group today signed an expression of interest (EoI) with the government of Karnataka to develop 2,500 MW (MW) of new wind power capacity in the state between 2012 and 2017. Speaking on the occasion here, Suzlon Energy Group Chairman Tulsi Tanti said: "This not only reinforces Karnataka's position as one of India's leading markets in wind power, but also illustrates their commitment towards creating a low-carbon economy in the state".

The EoI covers the development of new capacity in wind farms across the state, with developments planned in the districts of Bijapur, Chitradurga, Tumkur, Dharwad, Raichur, Chikmagalur, Mysore, Belgaum and Bagalkot. The investment is worth Rs 15,000 crore, according to a company statement. Under the EoI signed during GIM 2012, the Karnataka government would obtain the necessary permissions, registrations, approvals and clearances for the development of wind farms in the state. Suzlon Energy, in turn, would play the role of a developer and facilitate the flow of investments into the state through its customers investing in wind power. Karnataka has large untapped wind power potential, with estimates ranging around 13,000 MW according to Centre for Wind Energy Technology (CWET).

'People worrying themselves sick' over windfarms
7 Jun 2012

MORE than 80% of people believe health concerns about wind farms will "turn out to be nothing to worry about", a survey commissioned by the Clean Energy Council says. The survey also showed the majority of respondents supported wind farms and felt the right of farmers to make a profit from turbines on their land was more important than a resident's right to a view. The council survey took in 1200 people in regional and metropolitan areas in three states-South Australia, Victoria and NSW-which have wind farms.

More than 80% of respondents felt concerns about the health effects of wind turbines would prove unfounded, while 17% thought they would turn out to be "a real health issue". Two-thirds (67%) of people believed a farmer's right to generate income from their land was more important than a resident's right to a view clear of wind turbines. Clean Energy Council policy director Russell Marsh said the results showed those who opposed wind power were "out of step with community thinking". "The majority of people surveyed agreed that wind farms bring income to farmers and local businesses, and that governments shouldn't get in the way of this", Mr Marsh said.

Following the first hearing this week by an SA parliamentary committee investigating wind farms, Greens MLC Mark Parnell said while people "get annoyed from the sound from wind farms, there is no evidence that it's making people sick". "Certainly people are worrying themselves sick", he said. The survey also found:

  • ALMOST two-thirds (60%) of people felt restrictions on wind farm growth meant the state's industry was mis-sing opportunities.
  • ABOUT three-quarters (77%) felt local communities and landowners should be able to "make up their own minds" about wind farms, with less interference from politicians. South Australia provides 54% of the nation's wind power.

Renewable energy costs falling: agency
6 Jun 2012

Power from renewable energy sources is getting cheaper every year, according to a study released Wednesday, challenging long-standing myths that clean energy technology is too expensive to adopt. According to the study by the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency, the costs associated with extracting power from solar panels has fallen as much as 60% in just the past few years. The price of generating power from other renewables, including wind, hydroelectric power, concentrating solar power and biomass, was also falling. "One of the (myths) out there perpetuated by industry lobby groups is that renewable energy is too expensive", said Adnan Amin, IRENA's director general.

The numbers tell a different story however as "costs are falling exponentially... and will continue (to do so) in the future", said Amin arguing that electricity generation "is now cost competitive with many traditional fossil fuel technologies". According to Dolf Gielen, director of IRENA's innovation and technology centre, investment in renewables is no longer a niche but rather represents the "bulk of investments in global power generation", accounting for half of the total annual capacity additions worldwide. "The markets are growing very fast... and further cost reductions are very likely", he said adding that in 2011, investments in the supply side of renewable energy sources reached about $260 billion.

A second IRENA study released Wednesday estimates renewables will create a minimum of four million jobs just in the electricity sector in rural areas of the developing world. Today, there are five million jobs world-wide in the renewable energy sector and more than 1.3 billion people, mainly in Africa and Asia, who do not have access to electricity, according to IRENA. "There is considerable employment potential", said Amin. Founded in 2009, IRENA is an intergovernmental organisation established to promote the widespread use of renewable energy sources. It has more than 155 member states and is headquartered in Abu Dhabi.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Wind Turbine Syndrome: mass hysteria in the 21st Century?
6 Jun 2012

"The patients suffered from nervous excitability, with buzzing noises in the ear, giddiness, and neuralgic pains,.. in some cases,..objective lesions, such as a subinflammatory condition of the membrane tympani,.. All the trouble speedily vanishes if the ear is allowed a sufficient measure of physiological rest; this it can only obtain by the cause of the evil being withdrawn. The victims,.. seem all to be of markedly nervous organization, and the moral may be drawn that such persons should not use the telephone". British Medical Journal, September 21, 1889

The history of the introduction of new technology has often featured highly publicised panics about the miseries that will be visited upon those who fall prey to these Mephistophelean temptations. The industrial revolution in the nineteenth century was the golden age for technophobes and those convinced that modern society was toxic.

George Miller Beard, an American neurologist, popularised the long-discredited diagnosis of neurasthenia. He argued that "wireless telegraphy, science, steam power, newspapers and the education of women; in other words modern civilization" was responsible for widespread anxiety, depression, headaches and fatigue. While we can laugh at the amusing conflation of ideologies about the social order with disease, such attributions are not hard to find today. At 60, I'm old enough to remember neighbours telling my parents that they wouldn't have one of those televisions in the house. Electric blankets, microwave ovens, computer screens and most recently, mobile phones and towers have all attracted panic.

With there being many more mobile phones than people in Australia today, and mass use going back now more than 15 years, the flatline data on the incidence of brain cancer doesn't suggest much evidence to support the populist rumour that mobile telephony causes cancer.

Panics about wind farms are the latest example of technophobia, although those convinced that wifi emits death-rays have recently joined the queue. I've been closely following the claims that wind turbines cause illness for about two years. Many aspects of this unfolding and increasingly hysterical saga point to large psychogenic factors. Psychogenic illness is defined as a constellation of symptoms suggestive of organic illness, but without an identifiable cause, that occurs between two or more people who share beliefs about those symptoms. The idea that fear of illness can precipitate symptoms goes back at least to the time of Francis Bacon who said, "Infections,.. if you fear them, you call them upon you".

A key component of psychogenic illness is that sufferers are warned that they should fear some agent. They are truly 'communicable diseases'. The internet is awash with such warnings and Australia's very own Waubra Foundation, with unregistered doctor Sarah Laurie at the helm, is doing all it can to spread alarm in rural communities. Media monitoring records of alarmists' messages in rural communities provides important evidence for the strong likelihood of a nocebo effect at work.

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Simon Chapman is professor of public health at the University of Sydney. Twitter: @simonchapman6

Gas contracts may be linked to renewable energy, Gazprom says
5 Jun 2012

Gazprom (GAZP), the world's biggest natural-gas producer, said renewable energy may eventually replace oil for indexing gas prices in long-term contracts.

"It's time to define ways to improve the system", Alexander Medvedev, deputy chief executive officer of the Russian gas exporter, said in prepared remarks for a speech today at the World Gas Conference in Kuala Lumpur. "As a new thing, one could choose a renewable source as an alternative energy resource for indexing prices in the future".

For now, Gazprom links its prices to oil and refined products with a time lag, a method that dates back to the 1970s, when the fuels were more commonly used in power generation. As Brent crude rallied in the past three years and gas traded on exchanges became cheaper, Europe's biggest utilities suffered losses under long-term contracts with suppliers and called for a new system. Units of E.ON AG (EOAN) and RWE AG (RWE), Germany's biggest utilities, are in arbitration with Gazprom over prices.

Gazprom has defended oil-indexed pricing as a way to protect buyers against the influence of producers and unknown future risks. The company, which supplies one-quarter of European gas needs and is seeking to raise that share to 30%, has no plans to break the oil-link any time soon. "One should be quite cautious with proposals to reject the oil-price indexation", Medvedev said today. Long-term gas contracts ensure security of supply and protect the interests of both buyers and sellers, Medvedev said at the conference. They help share risks and secure long-term investments, he said.

Thin-Film photovoltaics market aims to convert on huge potential
5 Jun 2012

Ultimately, the world will run out of fossil fuels. Meanwhile, as the world fights over fossil fuels, our planet hangs in space a mere 93 million miles from a giant fusion reactor that's 1.4 million km wide. The sun gives us about 1.37 kilowatts per m² of energy. If it were somehow possible to convert 100% of the sun's energy into usable power, we would need only one hour of it to power the Earth for an entire year.

Using the sun for energy is hardly a new concept. Nor are photovoltaics (PV), which convert sunlight into electricity; the technology has been under commercial development since the 1970s, though up until recently, it remained difficult to achieve economies in manufacturing to make PV affordable. To date, solar panels large enough to fulfill significant energy needs have been neither very cheap nor very portable.

While the military has developed folding, semi-portable solar panels for installations in remote locations, few organizations or individuals have the kinds of budgets of the Department of Defense. Not to mention that most solar panels to date have been opaque, rigid and hard to use in places that could use a little supplemental energy from PV: atop a car or a building's windows.

The future practicality of PV--lower price point and putting PV cells onto less rigid surfaces so they can be "wrapped" or molded around buildings, cars and even people, in the form of PV-cell clothing--seems to lie in making PV cells flexible. Enter the plastics industry and the development of thin-film solar cells (TFSC), also called thin-film photovoltaic (TFPV) cells. TFSCs are made by depositing one or more thin layers, i.e., films, of photovoltaic material onto a substrate. The thickness of the layers is small, ranging from a few nanometers to a few tens of micrometers. Existing thin-film processes generally use semiconductor materials such as copper, indium, gallium, cadmium and selenium to create the PV cells.

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SA Premier rejects nuclear argument
5 Jun 2012

Premier Jay Weatherill says the South Australian Government remains opposed to nuclear power as an avenue to cutting carbon emissions. A nuclear power advocate Professor Barry Brook of University of Adelaide thinks it is inevitable Australia will embrace nuclear power. Professor Brook expects small nuclear power plants could be built in years to come, possibly at outback mining sites. He says BHP Billiton should consider the option as it expands the Olympic Dam mine.

"It can provide clean energy for it and it's actually producing metals and fuel for the rest of the world", he said. "I would suggest by about 2025 there's going to be a lot of serious debate about getting the first reactors built here and probably the way it can be done is to build small reactors you can bury underground, so they're very safe like that".

Mr Weatherill says using nuclear power is not on the table. "It doesn't represent the policy of this Government", he said. "Leaving aside the broader objections, there is a practical, financial objective that means that nuclear power for South Australia is unlikely to be viable".