Thursday 28 June 2012

Sun sets on solar jobs in the sunshine state

Clean Energy Council
26 Jun 2012

More than 4500 jobs could go in the next 12 months as a result of yesterday's decision by the Queensland Government to slash an incentive for people to purchase solar power systems, according to analysis commissioned by the Clean Energy Council. Clean Energy Council acting Chief Executive Kane Thornton said the solar industry was "obviously disappointed" at such a rapid reduction in the Queensland Solar Bonus Scheme, which would put thousands of jobs at risk.

"The Solar Bonus Scheme has been very successful, with the solar industry now employing approximately 11,000 Queenslanders. The Solar Bonus Scheme itself has stimulated $2.37 billion worth of private investment", said Mr Thornton. "It is appropriate that the Queensland government reduces the level of its support scheme, given the great success of solar and the reduction in the cost of solar power systems in recent times. "However, this kind of sudden drop could have a serious negative impact on an industry that has been delivering major economic benefits to the state", he said.

A decision was made on Monday afternoon to reduce the level of support to householders under the Solar Bonus Scheme from 44¢ per kilowatt-hour down to 8¢. Mr Thornton said he was concerned about the Queensland Government's commitment to clean energy for the state, given it had also closed its rebate scheme for solar hot water last Friday.

eBay to power data center with Bloom Energy's renewable energy fuel cells
21 Jun 2012

eBay said it plans to build a data center powered by startup Bloom Energy's renewable energy fuel-cells, a more environmentally friendly alternative to drawing power from the mostly coal-based electric grid. The U.S, online auction sales group will use 30 Bloom Energy servers that use biogas derived from renewable organic waste and will only use the grid as a back-up source of power. Last month, Apple said it was buying equipment from SunPower and Bloom Energy to build two solar array installations to power its main U.S, data center.

Concerns about the ever-expanding power consumption of computer data centers have mounted in recent years, as technology companies build enormous facilities housing servers to cater to an explosion in Internet traffic, multimedia use and enterprise services hosting. "eBay is raising the standard for the entire industry. It is 21st century infrastructure for the industry needs of the 21st century", said KR Sridhar, chief executive of Sunnyvale-based Bloom Energy, said in a statement.

Turbines for new North Shore wind farm arrive next week
21 Jun 2012

First Wind LLC will begin delivering turbine parts next week for its Kawailoa wind power project on Oahu's North Shore, company officials said today.

The company will transport the blades and tower components from Kalaeloa Harbor to the project site starting Monday using oversized trailers. The deliveries will be made between 10 p.m, and 5 a.m. Monday through Friday to minimize traffic disruptions, according to a news release from the company.

In addition, each delivery will have a police escort. Traffic may be stopped momentarily as the trucks navigate certain intersections along the delivery route, the company said. "We are making every effort to ensure that this transport is done with minimal traffic disruptions", said Kekoa Kaluhiwa, First Wind director for external affairs. "We truly appreciate everyone's patience throughout this process".

First Wind broke ground on the wind project on February 24. Kawailoa Wind's 69 MWs of generating capacity will be enough to power the equivalent of 14,500 Oahu homes. The project includes thirty Siemens turbines that will be installed on land owned by Kamehameha Schools mauka of Kamehameha Highway between Waimea Bay and Haleiwa town.

Scotland touts renewable energy leadership
20 Jun 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, June 20 (UPI)--With 25% of the offshore and tidal resources in Europe, Scotland is on pace to become the regional hub for renewables, the Scottish first minister said. Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond addressed delegates at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco during a trade mission to the United States. Scotland, he said, was making a significant contribution to the emerging renewable energy sector. "We are ambitious for the future, both for ourselves and what we can contribute to the rest of the world", he said.

Scotland aims to derive 100% of its electricity demand through renewable energy projects by 2020. The government estimates it met 35% of its electricity demand last year through renewable energy resources. All universities in Scotland have energy technology partnerships with third parties and Scotland this year signed a collaborative deal with the Masdar Energy Institute in Abu Dhabi. Glasgow, meanwhile, serves as a major research center for offshore wind power generation. "We possess 10% of Europe's wave energy resources and 25% of its offshore wind and tidal resources--all with only 1% of the EU population", Salmond said.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

RPT-Faulty tests blamed for California nuclear plant leak
19 Jun 2012

(Reuters)-Tubes that leaked radioactive steam at a California nuclear power plant, leading to an indefinite shutdown, were not properly tested by the manufacturer prior to installation, nuclear regulators told an overflowing public hearing on Monday. The San Onofre Nuclear Power plant, located in Orange County, has been shut down since Jan. 31, when plant operators discovered a small radiation leak in one of the plants' two units. The 2,150 MW plant is operated by Edison International's Southern California Edison utility.

The nuclear station is located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego and is critical to the grid to import electricity into southern California. Its extended shutdown raises the possibility of rolling power outages as warmer temperatures boost demand for power over the summer. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Monday pinned the blame for the leak on Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which it said underestimated the velocity of water and steam surging through the generator by a factor of three or four times in its computerized test of the equipment.

The tubes were also not held together tightly enough inside the troubled Unit 3 reactor, allowing them to rub against each other and causing premature wear, regulatory officials said. Eight of the 129 tubes tested by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission since the shutdown at the plant's troubled Unit 3 generator failed pressure testing, an unprecedented number, said Elmo Collins, regional administrator for the Region IV office of the NRC. "We've never seen that before", he said of the test results. "This is a significant, serious safety issue".

Officials from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Southern California Edison said they would not allow the plant to reopen until it was safe to do so, and declined to give a specific timeline for restarting the plant. "Both San Onofre units will be shut down until repairs are made and we and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are satisfied it is safe to operate", said Pete Dietrich, senior vice president and chief nuclear officer for the power plant.

While the regulatory commission has some authority over contractors such as Mitsubishi, Collins made it clear that it's Southern California Edison that will ultimately be held accountable if penalties are eventually levied by the government. A crowd of over 400 people showed up for the hearing, many asking pointed questions about the competence of the Southern California Edison and the regulatory commission, as well as raising questions about the safety of nuclear power.

Dozens of environmentalists held a rally prior to the meeting with anti-nuclear signs, including one banner that read "Fukushima not again!"-a reference to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster last year following the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. Damon Moglen, climate and energy director for green group Friends of the Earth, said that Southern California Edison made significant design changes to the plant without seeking an amendment to its existing license, as is required by the regulatory commission.

His group submitted petition to nuclear regulators on Monday to require the company to obtain a new license, complaining that in his view the commission was "asleep at the regulatory wheel". The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said its investigation into what went wrong at the plant was ongoing and promised to keep the public apprised of any new developments. A written report on the findings will be released next month, regulators said.

Renewable energy use surged worldwide last year
18 Jun 2012

Renewable energy reached a big milestone in 2011, surging to a record $257 billion in global investments, the UN Environment Program announced, up 17% from 2010 and a sixfold increase over the past seven years. The figure also marks a breakthrough for the solar power industry, which drew nearly twice as much investment as wind power last year, according to reports from the UN and the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century Total solar investments rose 52%, to $147 billion, in 2011, the reports say. While China has led the world in renewable-energy investments for three years, it increasingly faces competition from around the world, especially from the United States.

Chinese renewable-energy investments rose 17% to $52 billion in 2011. In the US, a 57% surge that pushed investments to $51 billion. The UK, Spain and Italy also had investment booms, with respective growth rates of 59, 45 and 43%, although their totals remain relatively small. The most extreme change came in India, whose 62% rise to $12 billion represents "the fastest investment expansion of any large renewables market in the world", UNEP reports.

This is mostly good news for the renewables industry, particularly solar, but the UNEP and REN21 reports have some dark spots, too. While $257 billion is a new record for global investments in renewables, the 17% increase is down substantially from the 37% growth recorded in 2010. Investments declined in some countries including Germany (down 12%) and much of the Middle East and Africa (down 18%). "Policy uncertainty created by the Arab Spring delayed some projects", UNEP notes, "but a number of important initiatives did still progress".

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Monday 25 June 2012

Solar boom heads to Japan creating $9.6 billion market
19 Jun 2012

Japan is poised to overtake Germany and Italy to become the world's second-biggest market for solar power as incentives starting July 1 drive sales for equipment makers from Yingli Green Energy Holdings Co, to Kyocera Corp. (6971) Industry Minister Yukio Edano set today a premium price for solar electricity that's about triple what industrial users now pay for conventional power. That may spur at least $9.6 billion in new installations with 3.2 GWs of capacity, Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast. The total is about equal to the output of three atomic reactors. Solar stocks rallied.

"The tariff is very attractive", said Mina Sekiguchi, associate partner and head of energy and infrastructure at KPMG in Japan. "The rate reflects the government's intention to set up many solar power stations very quickly". Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's effort to cut dependence on atomic energy that provided about 30% of Japan's power before the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011 will help a solar industry suffering incentive cuts across Europe. It's also raising concern among Japanese business groups that clean power aid will raise bills and slow Japan's economic recovery.

"This is a mechanism with a high degree of market intervention by setting tariffs artificially high and making users shoulder the cost", said Masami Hasegawa, senior manager of the environmental policy bureau of Keidanren, Japan's most powerful business lobby, which counts Toyota Motor Corp, and Nippon Steel Corp (5401) among its members. "We question the effectiveness of such a scheme".

Twice German Rate
Utilities will pay 42 yen (53¢) a kilowatt-hour for 20 years to solar power producers, almost twice the rate in Germany, the world's biggest market by installations. The solar tariff was among incentive rates for clean energy announced today by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and foreshadowed by a ministry official June 15. Solar stocks rallied for a second day. The Bloomberg Global Large Solar Energy index added 1.8% at 12:13 p.m., bringing its two-day gain to 8.5%, the largest two-session intraday advance since February.

Developers are counting on the subsidies and have accelerated solar-park construction plans this year. "We hear every day a new announcement of a MW-scale project", Izumi Kaizuka, a solar industry analyst at RTS Corp., said in Munich, referring to projects 1 MW or bigger. Japan ranked sixth worldwide by new installations last year, when it added 1.3 GWs of solar to bring its installed base to 5 GWs. Next year builders will erect roughly triple that level, or another 3.2 GWs to 4.7 GWs, New Energy Finance forecasts. A GW is enough to supply about 243,000 homes in Japan.

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Pilot floating wind power project seeks EU funds
17 Jun 2012

Investors in the world's first floating wind turbine are seeking European Union funding to build five more off the coast of Portugal following the success of initial testing of the device. The wind power generator, which cost 20 million euros ($25.3 million), floats over deep ocean waters, unlike previous offshore wind farms built in shallow waters and attached to the ocean floor.

EDP and Seattle-based Principle Power, partners in the project, said the pilot produced 1.7 GWs of energy per hour (GWh) on average since its blades started turning six months ago, enough to supply power to 1,300 families. "This was a great success, our calculations have proved right, and the unit performed as predicted. But this was a conservative design. Next time we will be more optimistic", Principle Power Chief Executive Alla Weinstein told Reuters.

The pilot sits six km off the coast of the windy town of Povoa do Varzim, close to Porto in northern Portugal. It is 54 metres tall and weighs 1,200 tonnes, with a turbine from Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems and backup from Repsol and other local partners. Its capacity at 2 MWs (MW) is just below the average of offshore wind turbines in Europe, which was 3.6 MW at end-2011, according to the European Wind Energy Association. Construction of a bigger wind farm park now awaits EU funding.

"We have applied for a European Commission funding scheme that creates a tariff-like funding mechanism when you produce energy. It is provided through the monetisation of carbon credits", Weinstein said. Construction and testing would then commence on a larger scale. "After the prototypes are fully tested, we start with the commercial phase in two years' time, with the objective of starting to have some return on the investment", Pedro Valverde, the project manager at EDP, said.

The first wind turbine is connected to the grid through cables that run on the ocean floor and are linked to an onshore sub-station. If the distances are much greater than 6 km, the plan is to build mid-ocean substations. "These electrical cables are relatively inexpensive", Valverde said. Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva told reporters at a presentation of the first results of the pilot test, "We can't help but feel a bit proud about being in the front line in renewable energy. This must be a priority for Europe if it wants to reach its 2020 (carbon reduction) goals".

Japan approves 2 reactor restarts, more seen ahead
16 Jun 2012

  • Restarts would be first after Fukushima disaster
  • Japan's policy to reduce nulcear dependence intact-trade min
  • Nuclear safety considerably enhanced after Fukushima-trade min

TOKYO, June 16 (Reuters)-Japan on Saturday approved the resumption of nuclear power operations at two reactors despite mass public opposition, the first to come back on line after they were all shut down following the Fukushima crisis. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, his popularity ratings sagging, had backed the restarts for some time. He announced the government's decision at a meeting with keep ministers, giving the go-ahead to two reactors operated by Kansai Electric Power Co at Ohi in western Japan.

The decision, despite public concerns over safety after the big earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima plant, could open the door to more restarts among Japan's 50 nuclear power reactors. "There is no such thing as a perfect score when it comes to disaster prevention steps", Trade Minister Yukio Edano told a news conference after the announcement. "But, based on what we learned from the Fukushima accident, those measures that need to be taken urgently have been addressed, and the level of safety has been considerably enhanced (at the Ohi plant)", he said.

Edano, who holds the energy portfolio, said the government policy to reduce Japan's dependence on nuclear power in the medium-to long-term was unchanged despite the decision. The decision is a victory for Japan's still-powerful nuclear industry and reflects Noda's concerns about damage to the economy if atomic energy is abandoned following the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

The push to restart the two Ohi reactors, before a potential summer power crunch, also underscores the premier's eagerness to win backing from businesses worried about high electricity costs that could push factories offshore. Kansai electric says it will take six weeks to get both reactors running fully. But the decision risks a backlash from a public deeply concerned about nuclear safety. As many as 10,000 demonstrators gathered outside Noda's office on Friday night amid a heavy police presence to denounce the restarts, urging the premier to step down and shouting "Lives matter more than the economy".

Noda's own future is murky as he struggles to hold his fractious party together after cutting a deal with opposition rivals to double Japan's sales tax to 10% by 2015. "I imagine there will be a fair number of (reactor) restarts by next year. The government under Noda is surprisingly eager", said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University's Japan campus. nuclear power supplied almost 30% of electricity needs before the March 2011 disaster, which triggered meltdowns at Fukushima, spewing radiation and forcing mass evacuations.

The accident destroyed public belief in the "safety myth" promoted by Japanese nuclear power advocates for decades. Activists have collected more than 7.5 million signatures on a petition urging an end to atomic power. Protesters have poured into the street almost daily over the past week. All 50 reactors were shut down for maintenance or safety checks in the months since the accident. The government had placed a priority on gaining the approval of local communities for the Ohi restarts to avert July-August power shortages. Critics say the government was too hasty in signing off on the restarts, especially given delays in setting up a new, more independent nuclear regulatory agency.

Tattered Trust
Public trust in regulators was tattered by evidence that cosy ties with utilities were a key reason Fukushima operator Tokyo Electric Power Co was unprepared for the tsunami, and subsequent signs that relations remain far too snug. Parliament's lower house on Friday approved legislation to create a new atomic regulator, but getting it up and running will take months. That could force the government to go slower on restarts, though some politicians are keen to forge ahead. "We can no longer go back to a life that depends on candles", ruling party heavyweight Yoshito Sengoku said in an interview with the Sankei newspaper this week.

The Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency, the current watchdog, has approved stress tests for Shikoku Electric Power Co Inc's 890 MW No.3 reactor in Ikata, southern Japan. Next on the list for possible approval are two Hokkaido Electric Power reactors in Tomari, northern Japan and Hokuriku Electric's two in Shika, western Japan. "Basically he (Noda) doesn't want to wait but,.. it would attract criticism so the government would be cautious if they are clever", said Hiroshi Takahashi, a Fujitsu Research Institute fellow and member of a panel advising the government on energy policies.

New wind farms raise New Zealand's renewable energy generation
16 Jun 2012

Wind power is on course to supply 20% on New Zealand's electricity by 2030, compared with just 5% now, industry experts said Friday on the announcements of two major new wind power projects. State-owned power company Meridian Energy announced it would start construction on a 26 turbine, 60 MW wind farm at Mill Creek, north of Wellington, in the next two months, to be completed in mid 2014. "At an estimated 169 million NZ dollars (132.36 million U.S, dollars) to construct and with an annual average operating cost of 3.3 million NZ dollars, Mill Creek is a very strong commercial proposition", Meridian Energy chief executive Mark Binns said in a statement.

Meridian Energy's wind development team had taken advantage of a number of external factors, including the strong New Zealand dollar, an easing of steel prices and highly competitive turbine technology and construction industries, he said. The Mill Creek wind farm would be situated near existing Meridian Energy wind farm West Wind. "The project will extend the contribution of renewable energy from the city to the wider Wellington region. Between West Wind and Mill Creek we will produce enough energy to power the equivalent of 100,000 average New Zealand homes".

Mill Creek would produce on average 235 MW hours of power per year, enough electricity to power the equivalent of 30,000 average New Zealand homes. Friday, which was Global Wind Day, also marked the opening of the country's newest wind farm, the 7.65 MW Mount Stuart wind farm in the South Island's Clutha district. New Zealand Wind Energy Association chief executive Eric Pyle said the two projects reinforced wind power as a cost effective form of generation and an attractive investment.

"From the point of view of an investor, the major advantages of wind farms are that they can be built quickly and sized to fit both the developer's strategy and market requirements", Pyle said in a statement. Wind energy had grown over 25% a year over the last few years to supply about 5% of New Zealand's electricity, and was likely to be supplying 20% by 2030, said Pyle.

Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley said the role of wind power for electricity generation was steadily increasing. "Unlike many countries, New Zealand's wind power does not require subsidies. It is one of the cheapest sources of generation for New Zealand to develop", Heatley said in a statement. "Renewables already play a significant role in our energy mix with 77% of New Zealand's electricity coming from renewable sources last year. The government has a target of 90% by 2025". About 2,400 MWs of other wind projects were already approved, Heatley said.