Tuesday 7 August 2012

VCAT approval for Bald Hills windfarm - finally

7 Aug 2012

After various appeals from wind farm opponents and an unnecessary delay by the planning Mr Minister, Matthew Guy, the Bald Hills wind farm has finally received approval to go ahead after the VCAT decision on August 3, 2012.

This is a win for common sense, due process and the environment and hopefully a nail in the coffin of politically supported wind farm opposition and climate change denial.

Hopefully preparatory work will commence on South Gippsland's third wind farm before the end of August.

California on course for renewable energy

3 Aug 2012

California's utilities have surpassed the state's goal of 20% of energy from renewable sources, state regulators said. The California Public Utilities Commission said that 2011 showed the greatest year-to-year increase in the capacity of renewable generation achieving commercial operation, and 2012 is already on track to far surpass 2011. California's mandated target set in 2003, known as the Renewable Portfolio Standard, says utilities must average 20% renewable energy in the power they sell customers from 2011 13, increasing to 33% by 2020.

From 2003 11, California installed 2,871 MWs of renewable energy capacity. In 2012, the state is expected to add almost another 2,800 MWs, the commission says. The state's major investor-owned utilities--Pacific Gas and Electric, San Diego Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison--had reached the target, the commission says, collectively securing 20.6% of electricity sold from renewable sources.

By 2020, sun-generated power, not including small-scale rooftop solar, is projected to account for about 11% of all power sold by those three major utilities, which sell 68% of the electricity provided to California retail customers. "Let's not underestimate 11%", says Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, a San Francisco nonprofit, Climatewire reports. "That's a massive, massive investment", Browning said. "You're talking about a major shift in resources and in money going from fossil fuels to renewable energy".

While last year solar accounted for about 1% of PGE's renewable energy mix, the utility expects that share to soar to 40% by 2020. "We're about to see solar on a project scale larger than almost anywhere in the world", Aaron Johnson, director of renewable energy policy and strategy at PGE, was quoted as saying by Silicon Valley's Mercury News. "Planning for the 33% (RPS MetOcean target) began four or five years ago. There's no way to get from here to there (the 33% target) without solar".

And Southern California Edison says its share of solar could also rise to 40% of its renewable energy mix by 2020 from about 6% last year. California's solar industry has created 26,000 jobs, or 1 in-4 solar jobs nationwide, states a study by the University of California Berkeley law school. Currently there are 12 utility-scale solar photovoltaic plants with a 2,200 MW capacity under construction in California, and an additional 62 plants with 11,600 MWs of capacity under development.

Not enough wind power

24 Jul 2012

WIND energy potential is vastly underutilised in Victoria, according to the Climate Change Commission, which has called for more emphasis on renewables in the face of environmental challenges. The commission's 12th report released yesterday said the state's installed wind power capacity, including installations in south-west Victoria, was only a fraction of the total resources that could be harnessed.

"As a comparison, Denmark and Victoria have similar onshore wind speeds yet in 2010 Denmark had about seven times the installed onshore wind capacity of Victoria", the report said. "Wind turbines can provide a useful second income source for Victorian landowners. "The wind farm would also provide farmers with payments of up to $250,000 annually". The report lists solar and biomass as other viable energy sources.

Chief climate commissioner Professor Tim Flannery said Victoria should be making a sharp shift to renewable energy. "Victoria has got fabulous wind resources, the envy of places like Europe, and fantastic solar resources too", Professor Flannery said. "So the renewable energy capacity for the state is massive and it's barely being tapped at the moment". A graphic in the report shows the south-west coastal region as having one of the state's highest average yearly wind speeds of seven metres per second and faster at 65 metres above ground. There are 19 south-west wind farms either operating, being constructed or planned.

The report predicts climate-related extreme events to increase in frequency and intensity, with conditions for large and intense bushfires likely to become more common in the future. "The number of "very high" and "extreme" fire danger days could increase significantly during the next few decades", it says. "Global sea level rise is tracking near the highest levels. This means a potential one-metre rise during this century is a serious risk threatening Victoria's iconic beaches and thousands of residential and commercial buildings.

"The next chapter of the climate story is how Victoria and Australia can find solutions that minimise the risks of climate change while providing extra benefits for our health, community, economy and environment. "Harnessing clean energy, taking advantage of new economic opportunities and building sustainable communities can all provide new opportunities for Victorians". The report says much of south-east Australia has become drier in the past 40 years, with Victoria experiencing a 10-20% reduction in autumn and winter rain in the past 20 years.

Where did good policy go?

23 Jul 2012

Victoria's wind power sector is in a state of flux. After a strong run-up in capacity over the past few years, led by the 192 MW Waubra wind farm, plans for development have been curbed in the wake of new government guidelines-an all too familiar story for the clean energy sector. The new Baillieu government requirements, introduced last year, sees wind farms banned from many areas of the state as well as offering homeowners the right to veto any development within two km of their house.

Since the guidelines came into effect, there have been no new wind farm applications. The story is the same in New South Wales, where similarly arduous guidelines have been enforced. That's not good policy, unless you are actively looking to destroy an entire sector.

Keppel Prince, Australia's largest wind turbine maker, is a symbol of the problems. In the two months to June it reportedly cut over 10% of its workforce as demand dried up. The Portland-based company is at the heart of wind farm developments in Victoria, with four wind farms in the vicinity of its base of Portland on Victoria's western coast.

Keppel Prince, with around 450 staff at the beginning of the year, is not a big player from a global perspective, but it is indicative of the problems with clean energy policy in Australia in general. Peruse the Google News archives and you will see regular stories of job gains and job cuts as policy shifts dictate its immediate future. A major jobs announcement is practically an annual event.

The constant 'toing and froing' on policy across federal and state levels leaves the clean energy sector hopelessly exposed. Half-full rarely exists when it comes to turning Australia into a clean energy powerhouse.

Beyond wind farms coming under pressure in New South Wales and Victoria, this year we have seen solar PV face the risk of boom then bust in Queensland and the solar hot water rebate closure on a federal level. In all cases, the rules changed with little notice given. There are of course positives in clean energy policy, but even they are shrouded in doubt.

Solar Flagships Program offered great potential for the development of large-scale solar. We now sit three years after the $1.5 billion program was formed however, with just one confirmed project that will cost the government $170 million and create 159MW of capacity. At the start of the year that was going to be $770 million (which could have been reduced as solar panel prices had slumped) and around 400MW.

On the surface, the $10 billion of funding for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is great news for the sector, but given the glacial speed of Solar Flagships Program, one must be wary of speaking too soon. Especially as the overwhelming favourite to win the next election, Tony Abbott, has promised to consign it to the scrap bin.

The carbon price is not perfect policy-with so many stakeholders in play that is not really possible-but it is a step in the right direction. It too is haunted by the Abbott shadow, however. While a repeal may be unlikely, the fact it is regularly canvassed undermines the power of the legislation to help transform the nation's energy supply.

Fortunately, we still have the bipartisan renewable energy target, but now the likes of Origin Energy's Grant King are looking to change the rules. We await with baited breath the outcome of a crucial review of the RET by the newly formed Climate Change Authority-and hopefully some much needed certainty for renewable energy policy will follow. Without it, the Keppel Prince tale will become much more than a worrying trend.

Monday 6 August 2012

Isle of Wight to become UK’s hydrogen fuel test bed

19 Jul 2012

The Isle of Wight off the UK's south coast is to become a test bed for hydrogen fuel technology in a £4.66 million project led by energy storage and clean fuel company ITM Power. With a £1.3 million grant from the government-backed Technology Strategy Board, ITM Power will partner on the project with Ecoisland Partnership CIC-a community-based initiative aiming to make the Isle of Wight self-sustaining by the end of the decade.

The project is one of five being sponsored by the Technology Strategy Board, which also include an end-to-end, green hydrogen production, distribution and retailing system in London; a wind-powered hydrogen generation system in Aberdeen to serve a fleet of fuel-cell buses and two solar-generated hydrogen projects in Swindon and Surrey.

Also taking part in the Isle of Wight project and providing backing are SSE, Toshiba, IBM, Cable and Wireless, Cheetah Marine, the National Physical Laboratory, Arcola Energy, the Universitie of Glamorgan and University of Nottingham. The island will be home to a hydrogen energy production, storage and vehicle refuelling system, which will be integrated into the existing power network. An electrolyser-based refueller will be linked into the island's renewable energy developments to serve as a demand side management load.

Low-carbon hydrogen will be produced for use as a vehicle fuel, which will be supplied by two grid-connected hydrogen refuelling platforms. The larger of the two refuellers will be sited on a centrally located business park to serve a fleet of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles from Hyundai, Microcab and River Simple. Vestas Wind Systems, SSE and Southern Water will be using the hydrogen-powered vehicles as part of the car club being set up by Ecoisland Partnership CIC.

The other, smaller refueller will be located on the south coast of the island to serve hydrogen-powered boats. "Ecoisland represents a quantum leap for renewable technologies in the UK", says ITM Power CEO Graham Cooley. "ITM's energy storage and clean fuel technology will be at the heart of this project that gives us an ideal opportunity to link our equipment with world leading smart grid technologies to create the integrated energy grid of the future".

GE turbines help Greenko drive wind power cost below coal

18 Jul 2012

The cost of wind power has dropped below the price of coal-fired energy in parts of India for the first time as improved turbine technology and rising fossil fuel prices boost its competitiveness, Greenko Group Plc (GKO) said.

"Today we're able to supply energy below the cost of conventional power", said Mahesh Kolli, president of Greenko Group, which is building wind projects with General Electric Co. in India. "That's the key development for this year".

The cost of wind has closed in on coal thanks to more advanced turbines, which can produce more electricity from lower wind speeds. The shift means new wind farms in India will be able to survive without state subsidies, potentially attracting investors to a country where 57% of installed capacity is coal-based and 31% renewable, including hydroelectric.

Greenko Group began operating its first wind project in Ratnagiri in Maharashtra state this year using 1.6 MW GE turbines designed for low winds. That farm is "achieving efficiencies never before seen in India", with a 30% plant load factor, Kolli said today by telephone. That's a measure of a site's actual generation compared with its theoretical capacity.

The company, based on the Isle of Man, has signed agreements for more than 1,000 MWs of wind capacity and a three-year contract to buy at least 450 MWs of GE turbines. State power distributors in places such as Karnataka, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have a "market incentive to buy wind power because we're cheaper", Kolli said.

Generation Cost
The executive didn't specify the cost of generation, which varies according to state. Estimates from Bloomberg New Energy Finance show the most efficient wind projects in India run at a similar cost to new coal-fed plants. The best projects have a levelized cost of energy, which allows for comparison between different fuel sources, of 2.7 rupees (5¢) to 4.4 rupees a kilowatt-hour, compared with coal's 1.9 to 4.8 rupees, Ashish Sethia, an analyst at London-based BNEF, said in a July 3 note.

The economics of Indian wind developments may lure investors away from markets such as the US, where the end of a tax break for wind-power utilities could cause a 75% slump in new installations next year, according to BTM Consult, a unit of Navigant Consulting Inc. (NCI) (NCI) Kolli said India's decision to suspend a wind subsidy in April won't affect investments.

Subsidy Loss
The generation-based incentive, which paid wind farms a 500 rupee subsidy for every MW of electricity fed into the grid, is only the "icing on the cake", he said. Its loss won't diminish the 19% return on wind projects that Greenko Group assumes in its 15 year power sale agreements, he said. The current cost to build wind farms in India is about $1.25 million a MW, according to Kolli. While that price has largely held steady, the company is buying turbines that are 20% more efficient than in the past, he said.

Greenko Group already has more than 200 MWs of operating hydroelectric capacity in the country. Hydro and wind projects in India benefit from an abundance of renewable sources of energy, unlike coal and gas-fired generation which has been hurt by fuel supply shortages. Greenko Group reported a 6.5% increase in net income to 9.5 million euros ($11.6 million) for the financial year through March. Its shares fell 0.4% to 107 pence as of 12:28 p.m, in London today, extending their decline this year to 11%.