Monday 16 July 2012

Britain's supply of green energy soars
1 Jul 2012

Britain is being powered by record levels of green energy, after a surprise increase in electricity generated from wind, sun and waves. Renewables accounted for 11% of the UK's electricity in the first three months of 2012, compared with 7.7% from January to March 2011. There were big rises in power from onshore wind farms, while generation from hydroelectric and bioenergy plants also rose sharply, putting Britain much closer to meeting its legally binding commitment to get 15% of its power from renewable sources by 2020. The increases could also go some way to solving the looming energy crisis, as decades-old nuclear, coal and gas power stations are taken out of service.

The latest figures from the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency show that gas accounted for 27% of electricity generated in the first quarter of 2012, its lowest level in the past 14 years. High gas prices were blamed. Coal accounted for 42%, up by a fifth, while nuclear fell from 19 to 17%. Onshore and offshore wind generation was up by around 50% year-on-year. Hydroelectricity output was 43% higher between January and March 2012 than a year earlier, and thermal renewables rose by 20%. Solar, wave and tidal grew by more than 800%, but remain the smallest renewables sector with most technologies still in their infancy. Gordon Edge, of the trade body RenewableUK, claimed the figures were proof that "green growth is beginning to take hold".

Joss Garman, a senior campaigner at Greenpeace, said: "Britain is now in prime position to become the Saudi Arabia of the global offshore wind industry. The cost of wind power is falling fast so if ministers don't make the wrong decision over the next few months-and if they avoid a risky bet on a new dash for more gas burning-then we could all reap the benefits of a strong home-grown clean energy boom with stabilised energy bills, new jobs and industries, and reduced carbon emissions".

Major progress in renewables risks being undermined by a cabinet row over imminent cuts to some subsidies between 2013 and 2017. Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, is planning a 10% reduction in subsidies for onshore wind, but George Osborne is reported to favour a cut of up to 25%. With the Renewables Obligation Certificate regime due to expire in 2017, there are fears that uncertainty over its replacement could spook investors. Shaun Kingsbury, of the private equity firm Hudson Clean Energy, warned MPs that "if things continue to slow andmore detail comes out that makes it more complex, then you will see people stopping development spend". The Government claims its Energy Market Reform Bill will attract the £150bn-£200bn needed to overhaul the national grid and replace ageing nuclear and coal power stations. "Our ageing infrastructure has not been invested in for 30 years", said a government source. "If we don't fix it, the lights go out".

The surprise rise in green energy production at the start of this year builds on strong growth in 2011, when renewables generated 34,410 GWh, up a third on 2010. In 2009, just 3% of energy consumption in the UK came from renewables. Capacity grew by 36% last year. Charles Hendry, the climate change minister, said: "This shows that the UK is powering forward on clean and secure energy and is a very attractive place to invest".

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Gunning for energy blowin' in the wind
30 Jun 2012

From on top of these 80 metre-high wind turbines near Gunning, the view sweeps across the Southern Tablelands and future landscape of power generation. More than $3 billion worth of wind farms are awaiting planning approval in a concentrated wind and power belt from Crookwell to Yass. At least 10 major developments comprising more than 800 turbines are moving through environmental assessment or being tweaked to comply with draft guidelines for wind farms.

Each of the 31 turbines on Spanish-based multinational ACCIONA Energy's Gunning Wind Farm operates independently. They can turn 360° to catch optimum wind power, guided by an anemometer aerial which measures wind speed and direction, 24 hours a day, from on top of the gleaming white generators. ACCIONA Energy engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to assess economic benefits from its turbines which cost more than $100 million to build. They generate enough power for 24,000 homes. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts the wind farm will raise gross regional product in the south-east region by $69.3 million over the next decade.

On a high ridge, turbine blades travel at a few metres per second up to 25 metres per second in high winds, before they are turned off as a safety measure. Nine operation and maintenance workers oversee the plant and can take an internal lift to the top of each generator. The turbines are controlled from Melbourne and monitored from a base on a merino sheep stud 15 km north-east of Gunning. Debate is raging over wind farm impacts, even though only five-three near Crookwell and two at Lake George and Tarago-are up and running. ACCIONA Energy's director of engineering, construction and operation Brett Wickham said over time community acceptance of wind farms would grow.

''I think we do need more history, I think there has been a lot of fear and panic generated in various communities. ''I think, not only do we ask people to source factual documentation and do as much reading as they can from researched and peer-reviewed areas to be able to allay some of those fears, we also need a bit more history.'' He said over the next 25 years the turbines would either be re-powered or removed. ''No wind turbine around the world has reached that stage yet, but there have been opportunities to increase the capacity of the machines,'' Mr Wickham said. ''As part of our planning permit, de-commissioning is part of that, as much as we are bound to build it, if we are not generating money, we are bound to remove everything to a standard set by local planning authorities.''

The release of National Health and Medical Research Council's findings on wind farms at the end of this year will influence state governments' policies. Canberra-based wind power developer Windlab Systems has an interest in one of the projects near Boorowa. Windlab Systems's regional director for Australia, Luke Osborne, believes investments across the region are likely to go ahead in some form and bring a new and valuable revenue stream to the region. ''If the renewable energy target-the 20% renewables by 2020 stays in its current form, yes it will all go ahead.'' Multinational energy company Epuron proposes about 182 turbines worth $1 billion on sites near Yass and Bookham.

Renewable energy doubles in five years
29 Jun 2012

Scotland produced a record amount of renewable energy last year, almost double the total from five years ago. The UK Department for Energy and Climate Change said 13,735 GWs of renewable energy were generated north of the Border in 2011, up 44.3% on the previous year and up 97.3% on 2006. Provisional figures for the first quarter of this year show another big increase in renewables output to a total of 4,590GWH, up 45.5% compared with the first three months of 2011. Energy minister Fergus Ewing said the figures show that renewable energy generation in Scotland was "going from strength to strength".

Jenny Hogan, of Scottish Renewables, said: "Not only does renewables industry now employ more than 11,000 people in Scotland, it's helping to reduce our carbon emissions, tackle climate change and insulate us from volatility in the gas market which has been responsible for the major hikes in energy bills over the last few years". However, the advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) will today publish a report that will say the pace of measures to reduce emissions needs to increase fourfold.

It will highlight that, across the UK, although greenhouse gas emissions fell by 7% in 2011, only 0.8% of that can be linked directly to measures to lower carbon. David Kennedy, CCC chief executive, said: "Much of last year's fall in emissions was due to a combination of mild weather, rising fuel prices, falling incomes and transitory factors in power generation". Tom Ballantine, chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, said: "This assessment of progress makes it pretty clear the Scottish Government's climate policy is at a crossroads". It could choose to stick to current path and miss the targets, forfeiting the many benefits, or it could increase efforts to reduce emissions to put us on the right road to a low-carbon future, he said.