Thursday 4 October 2012

Nuclear power industry stalled by failure to address waste
30 Sep 2012

ATLANTA--Just as the nuclear industry is starting to build reactors after a 30 year drought, it faces another dry spell.

The industry thought it had what it needed for its rebirth: federal loan guarantees; a uniform reactor design; a streamlined licensing process. The nightmares from the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island, 1,000 new safety regulations and cost overruns would be left in the past, industry officials believed.

But what never came together was a long-term plan for how to store the used radioactive fuel. As a result, judges and regulators have slammed the brakes on new reactor projects--with two exceptions. "Waste is an environmental concern, it's a public health concern and it's become a security concern because we live in a different world now", said Sara Barczak, the high-risk energy director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Industry officials say there is time--more than 100 years even--until the nation's power plants run out of room to store the radioactive waste on site. But a federal appeals court ruled in June that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission--the agency charged with making sure utilities build and operate nuclear reactors safely--could no longer say it had reasonable assurance that a long-term waste-management solution would be created. Because of this, the NRC said it will not approve any new projects.

This leaves Atlanta-based Southern Co, and South Carolina's SCANA with the only utilities to win approval to build nuclear reactors from scratch after an almost 30 year gap. Other utilities that have nuclear projects but are further behind in the approval process may face an additional delay of a year or more.

Georgia Power, one of Southern's utilities in the company's four-state territory, is building two new reactors at Plant Vogtle with a group of municipal and cooperative electric companies. The $14 billion expansion of Vogtle, located in Waynesboro, Ga., is one of the largest economic development initiatives in state history. Georgia Power is responsible for $6.1 billion, which its customers will pay for as part of their monthly utility bills.

While Southern eventually plans to build more reactors beyond the Vogtle project, that likely won't happen until the next decade, company executives have said. "This is an issue of political feasibility", said Salo Zelermyer, a former Department of Energy lawyer who now is with Bracewell & Giuliani's environmental strategies group. "You can't store this waste in a region where there's intense local opposition to it".

Efforts were made to find, research and prepare a permanent central repository during the 30 year nuclear hiatus. The federal government planned to start moving used fuel from nuclear plants to Yucca Mountain in Nevada--which scientists had been researching since the 1970s.

The government signed contracts with utilities, including Southern Co., which owns nuclear plants in Georgia and Alabama, to haul the waste there when the repository was supposed to open in 1998. A protracted approval process, environmental questions, lawsuits and mounting political pressure ground the project to a halt in 2010.

President Barack Obama appointed a bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission to find alternative plans to Yucca Mountain. The commission supported a central repository but suggested the government secure approval from local communities to prevent the same type of backlash that Yucca Mountain received. "Scientifically, it was a perfectly good site, but politics caught up to it", said Steven Kraft, a senior director with the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based policy group for the nuclear industry.

For now, the utilities that own and operate the nation's 104 reactors house the high-level spent radioactive fuel at the power plants. The rods are first cooled in water and then moved to hardened casks made from massive steel and concrete. At Southern's reactor sites, the casks are placed above ground in what's known as independent spent fuel storage installation pads.

"It's kind of like the deficit. Eventually you are going to have to deal with it", said Glenn Sjoden, a nuclear and radiological engineering professor at Georgia Tech. "It's not something you can just let sit in your backyard".

But that's where the used fuel will sit, in the "backyard" of nuclear plants, likely for several years, because of the federal court ruling. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently announced it will start a two-year environmental review of temporary waste storage, even as it refuses to grant permits for any reactors.

Tidal power testing centre for Top End
1 Oct 2012

In the Northern Territory, Power and Water Corporation and Tenax Energy have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop a 2 MW tidal power plant and tidal power testing centre. Tenax Energy holds a licence to occupy 16.8 km² in the Clarence Strait, located north of Darwin, for the development of a commercial-scale tidal power power plant.

Following successful development of the 2 MW pilot plant, it is envisaged that the plant will then move towards a 10 MW pilot array (multiple devices) test followed by the development of a generation facility. The project is expected to be generating electricity by 2015, and could reach commercial scale before the end of the decade, according to the project developers.

New Zealand curbs gas emissions as polluters use more renewables
27 Sep 2012

New Zealand's energy industry reduced its greenhouse gas emissions for the third straight year in 2011 as polluters decreased their reliance on coal and gas in favor of renewable sources. Companies cut their emissions by 1.9% last year, according to a report on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's web site. The fall was largely driven by a 10% drop in electricity emissions after high rainfall and increased use of wind and geothermal power curbed natural gas emissions, the report said.

New Zealand is seeking to harness more of its renewable power sources after the energy industry's emissions surged by a third in the last two decades from population growth and more cars and road freight. That's the fifth-highest growth in energy pollution among United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change members over the period, even as the nation's emissions peaked in 2008, according to the report.

"Over the last decade the amount of energy being generated by wind and geothermal has grown significantly, causing growth in emissions from electricity generation to flatten", Bryan Field, acting manager of the Ministry's energy information and modeling group, said in a separate e-mailed statement.

Christchurch Earthquake
The Pacific nation's lower emissions last year were also driven by reduced electricity demand in Christchurch, the South Island's biggest city, where earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011 wrecked much of the city center. In July, New Zealand delayed measures that would have raised the carbon price for emitters. The decision came a day after Australia introduced a fixed price more than twice what New Zealand emitters pay. The nation, which got about 74% of its electricity from renewable sources in 2010, is focusing on economic growth as it seeks to recover from the earthquakes.

Pacific Hydro - Challicum Hills wind farm near record generation in August
26 Sep 2012

According to data from Pacific Hydro's Challicum Hills wind farm, which has been operating since 2003, August was its second highest month of generation on record. 'While it is usually windy at the beginning of spring, this year, strong consistent winds have pushed generation at Challicum Hills wind farm to almost record levels,' said Pacific Hydro's general manager for Australia, Mr Lane Crockett.

Expected monthly generation produces enough energy for around 26,000 homes but in August, Challicum Hills wind farm generated enough energy to power 37,808 homes-three times more power than the residential needs of Horsham, Stawell, Ararat and Beaufort combined.

'We're really pleased to see the project doing so well and contributing to increased clean energy output in the state,' said Mr Crockett. 'The project is helping to reduce pollution from coal fired energy generation which is good for the environment and our health.'

Over the border in South Australia, where around 25% wind power has been installed, near record generation last month saw up to 65% of their power coming from the wind. The increase in wind power in the state has not only reduced emissions significantly; it has enabled two coal fired power stations to be turned off.

'South Australia is proof that it is possible to integrate significant amounts of wind power into the grid, 'said Mr Crockett. 'While wind power in Victoria is small in comparison at around 4% of our energy capacity, once our wind power gets up to around 10% we could begin to see coal fired generation begin to get turned off as well.' Pacific Hydro operates five wind farms in Victoria and has plans to build three more in the coming years.

New cobalt catalyst can split hydrogen from water
26 Sep 2012

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have produced hydrogen from water using an inexpensive cobalt catalyst, the university said. The research is gaining attention because hydrogen can be used as a fuel in combination with fuel-cells, which are seen as a growing source of green energy.

The scientists' work is also noteworthy because the cobalt catalyst will work in conditions useful to industry. That means the catalyst uses fresh water, tolerates oxygen in the atmosphere and runs at room temperature.

Hydrogen is currently produced from fossil fuels, creating the greenhouse gas CO₂ as a by-product. Hence it is neither renewable nor clean. "A green process such as sunlight-driven water splitting is therefore required to produce 'green and sustainable [hydrogen],'" the University of Cambridge said in a statement.

The cobalt catalyst comes in handy because until now scientists have had a tough time finding an efficient and inexpensive catalyst that can function under real-world conditions--using pH neutral water, surrounded by oxygen and at room temperature. Currently, highly-efficient catalysts such as platinum are too expensive and cheaper alternatives are inefficient, the researchers said.

"Our research has shown that inexpensive materials such as cobalt are suitable to fulfil this challenging requirement", Dr. Erwin Reisner, the lead author of the research and head of the Christian Doppler Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, said in a university circular. "Of course, many hurdles such as the rather poor stability of the catalyst remain to be addressed, but our finding provides a first step to produce 'green hydrogen' under relevant conditions".

While it is too early to tell what impact this development will have on demand for cobalt, new applications for cobalt are generally seen as positive for the mineral, which is in oversupply; new uses could boost demand.

Global mine production of cobalt was 98,000 tonnes in 2011, according to the US Geological Survey. With two more mines coming on board in the next few years, London-based CRU has estimated that demand for cobalt will rise to over 100,000 tonnes of refined consumption a year by 2016. The market is expected to remain in oversupply at least until then.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) sources nearly two-thirds of the world's cobalt, most of which is refined in China. Zambia, Russia, Australia, Brazil and Canada also produce some cobalt, but the main players are the DRC and China. The Cambridge researchers, in the meantime, look forward to creating a sunlight-driven hydrogen system.

Fezile Lakadamyali and Masaru Kato, co-authors of the study, told New Energy and Fuel, "[w]e are excited about our results and we are optimistic that we will successfully assemble a sunlight-driven water splitting system soon". New Energy and Fuel added that it would be a breakthrough if the team "could get the hydrogen ready to store or reconnected to a carbon atom".

Solar glass that traps sunlight and boosts solar power
27 Sep 2012

An Australian startup lines up $5.2 million in venture capital to push its inaugural product: a coating that reduces reflection so that more sunlight can stay inside solar cells to generate electricity. Researchers have long been hard at work figuring out ways that solar panels can convert more sunlight into electricity.

A startup hailing from Australia, Brisbane Materials, now says it's figured out how to do this effectively using an anti-reflective coating, and on Monday it plans to announce an AUD $5 million ($5.2 million) Series A investment to help it ship its technology to its first customers.

Brisbane Materials' anti-reflective coating helps solar panels trap more light and the tech can boost the power output of solar panels by 3%, says its CEO Gary Wiseman. That means, for example, a solar panel that could produce 100 watts of energy without the coating will be able to yield 103 watts with Brisbane's technology. Competing coating products can deliver 2% or less, says Wiseman.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

First wave energy plant soon to sell electricity
26 Sep 2012

AUSTRALIA'S largest naval base is about to host and exclusively benefit from the first demonstration wave energy plant in the world, putting Perth at the forefront of wave energy development. Soon to be developed on the Department of Defence's HMAS Stirling base on Garden Island, the Perth Wave Energy project will be the first grid-connected wave energy plant to produce retailable electricity.

As such, it will also be the first demonstration project to validate the technology as commercially viable. Expected to power up to 25% of the base's annual energy needs, the two MW plant culminates 10 years of research led by Carnegie Corporation Wave Energy, which so far has invested more than $50 million to get the technology to where it is. According to Carnegie Corporation chief operating officer Greg Allen, that investment was worthwhile in that it helped develop the CETO 5 unit. "The technology itself consists of a buoy, a rope and a pump which is a hydraulic cylinder the same as you'd find on an excavator", Allen said.

CETO distinguishes itself from other wave energy devices by operating fully submerged and anchored to the ocean floor. "We're using the wave force to push down against the buoyancy, and as the buoy moves down, the seabed-mounted wave activated pump drops and draws fluid [water and a few additives] in, until the motion of water molecules in the wave reverses and wants to go back up. "The buoy then moves up and pulls on the pump, so it's just dropping, drawing fluid in, pulling up and pushing fluid out in a closed loop. "Essentially the energy that we get is in the form of pressurised fluid that we pump ashore via a subsea pipeline to generate electricity onshore".

The Perth Wave Energy project will consist of five 10m diameter buoys that will be linked to shore by a set of two 3.2kms heavy steel pipelines. A generator will sit onshore and put the produced energy into the grid. Partly government-funded, the $32 million project is officially branded as a demonstration project, even though it will be the first revenue Carnegie Corporation makes from CETO. "This project will be our first revenue from selling electricity from our technology", Allen says. Allen says the Perth Wave Energy project has a 25 year design life and is likely to be expanded. Carnegie Corporation Wave Energy is currently contemplating several commercial opportunities for CETO in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, as well as internationally.

Gorgon gas project tugs save fuel using battery power
25 Sep 2012

Four new tugboats being built for use in the Gorgon gas project off Australia's West Coast will run on more than two MWs worth of lithium-polymer batteries, reducing both fuel use and emissions according to Corvus Energy, the Canadian company that makes the batteries.

The project, which will be the largest natural resources extraction effort in Australian history, is located in an environmentally sensitive area, and the battery-powered vessels are intended to help minimise pollution. Corvus Energy said its 48 volt AT6500 batteries are about a quarter the weight of conventional batteries, making them the world's most energy-dense batteries.

"Corvus Energy is thrilled to be part of this major project and have our industrial lithium-polymer battery technology featured in the hybrid tugs", Corvus Energy CEO Brent Perry said in a statement. "We are confident that our 48 ­volt batteries will provide many years of economical operation as well as significantly reducing the environmental impact of such a large and important project", he added.

The batteries, which shipbuilder Siemens AS is using as it builds the tugboats, offer a fuel savings payback in about three years. The tugs, which have a maximum bollard pull of 75 tonnes, will be used in general offshore operations as the gas field is developed.

The Gorgon project is being developed by a joint venture of ChevronTexaco, Shell, and Exxon-Mobil, according to Offshore Technology. The first gas from the area is expected in 2014, and Chevron has supply agreements for 4 million tonnes of natural gas a year. Chevron Australia says the project includes the construction of a 15 million tonne per annum liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on Barrow Island.

Province to build geothermal plant
September, 26 2012

HA NOI (VNS)--A pioneering 25MW geothermal power plant will be built in the central province of Quang Tri's Dakrong District, according to the Viet Nam Thermal Association vice chairman Ta Huong. The plant, set to be the very first of its kind in Viet Nam, has been licensed by provincial authorities and aims to promote exploration for new sources of energy in the near future.

Huong said Viet Nam has the potential for developing geothermal power in almost all provinces and cities nationwide, especially in Phu Tho, Quang Binh and Quang Tri. The geothermal plant can operate 24 hours a day without being affected by weather conditions such as sunlight, wind or sea wave. Geothermal electricity is generated from geothermal energy. It is considered to be sustainable and friendly-environmental because the heat extraction is small compared with the earth's heat content.

It's reported that the geothermal power plant will use Hot Dry Rock (HDR) heat mining technology to mine the heat from the hot rock found almost everywhere at some depth beneath the surface of the earth. The water is pumped into hot, crystalline rock via an injection well, which becomes superheated as it flows opening joints in the hot rock reservoir, and is then returned through production wells. At the surface, the useful heat is extracted to generate power and the same water is recirculated to mine more heat.

The technology has been used by many countries in the world including the US, Germany and Iceland. The US takes the lead, with its geothermal power output accounting for 32% of all geothermal power produced in the world. In the next 50 years, the US is expected to generate 100,000MW from geothermal energy, supplying power for 25 million households at a cost of around $40 million per year.

Businesses divided on energy target shift
25 Sep 2012

The debate over Australia's renewable energy target of 20% by 2020 has intensified, with the Business Council of Australia joining calls to adjust the target amid fears it will unreasonably drive up power prices. But the council, one of the nation's main business lobby groups, has abandoned its long-held view that the target should be scrapped altogether, citing concerns that this could undermine investment in solar and wind farms.

In its submission to a government review of the target-the key measure to support the clean energy industry-the BCA has backed some power companies' concerns that the falling electricity demand in coming years means Australia will actually overshoot the 20% target. Its call to adjust the scheme deepens the divide within the business community on the issue. Another peak body, the Australian Industry Group, warned in its submission against changes to the target, saying this would create ''intense uncertainty'' for energy investors.

Big power firms are also divided, with Origin Energy and TRUEnergy backing an adjustment but AGL Energy arguing against any change. Origin Energy has estimated that the overshot target would add about $25 billion to the national energy costs through to 2030. But the BCA's decision to ditch its total opposition to the scheme reflects the importance of the target to the industry. Solar and wind firms are strongly reliant on the target because it delivers them a guaranteed income by forcing electricity retailers to source a portion of the power they sell from renewable projects.

''We are,.. conscious of the substantial investments that have been made or planned for, given the existence of the RET,'' the BCA submission states. The council says that about 26% of electricity will end up coming from renewable sources by 2020 because the target is set as a raw total of 41,000 GWs per year.

This would have equalled 20% on old electricity forecasts. But with demand now projected to fall because of high prices and the proliferation of rooftop solar panels, the target will be overshot, the council argues. ''We believe that the current level of the target is materially out of line with the stated objective,'' it says. ''This substantial increase in the target imposes additional costs on electricity users.''

Meanwhile consumer group CHOICE has called for greater powers to be given to the energy market regulator to ensure ''unjustifiable'' rises in power prices over the past five years don't happen again. CHOICE has made 14 recommendations to a Senate committee inquiry into electricity prices ahead of a hearing in Sydney today. ''Australian household electricity consumers have experienced rapid electricity price rises over recent years,'' it said in a submission to the inquiry. ''CHOICE believes these increases have been to a significant extent avoidable and unjustifiable.''

The group yesterday issued the results of a survey showing that 55% of respondents were very concerned about electricity prices and 30% were quite concerned.