Thursday 18 October 2012

GE starts Australia’s biggest solar farm to power seawater plant
10 Oct 2012

General Electric Co, and Verve Energy, a state-owned utility based in Perth, started Australia's biggest solar farm to generate electricity for the Southern Seawater Desalination Plant.

The 10 MW Greenough River project in Western Australia uses panels from FirstSolar Inc, and will produce energy equivalent to powering 3,000 homes, according to a joint statement from GE, Verve Energy and FirstSolar. GE and Verve Energy own 50% each of the plant.

The project partners are now evaluating the possibility of expanding the plant's capacity to as much as 40 MWs to meet increasing demand for renewable energy, Verve Energy Chief Executive Officer Jason Waters said in the statement. The solar farm is 50 km (31 miles) southeast of the port town of Geraldton in Western Australia.

Solar panel take-up warms to a million
10 Oct 2012

More than 10% of Australian homes now have solar panels. Australian roofs now have a solar power generating capacity equivalent to half the Snowy Hydro scheme as consumers react to soaring power prices and sinking prices for photovoltaic (PV) panels.

Some 858,000 homes have solar PV panels with an installed capacity of just under 2 GWs, according to the latest data from the Australian Clean Energy Regulator (ACER). At the current rate of take-up, the millionth home will tap into solar power before the end of June next year, said Professor Ray Wills, chief adviser to the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA), an industry lobby group.

Significantly, the growth in demand for solar has largely weathered the slashing of generous feed-in tariff in 2011 and subsequent dive in orders after the loss of the subsidy--to recover much of its expansion pace. Intense international competition among suppliers, particularly from China, now means households can expect payback periods of as short as four years, with a typical 1500 kW unit selling for $1500 $2000, Professor Wills said. "By 2013 14, solar panels will be so cheap that you'll coat every surface that has exposure to sunlight", he said. "You might even throw a coat on your dog".

Residents in the sprawling outer suburbs of major cities may have a reputation for preferring hulking SUVs and expansive "McMansions", but they are also among the fastest-growing purchasers of solar PVs, said Professor Wills, speaking on the sidelines of the All-Energy conference in Melbourne.

Energy firm claims battery storage breakthrough
10 Oct 2012

A South Australian energy firm is claiming an international breakthrough in battery technology that will help generators of solar and wind power store their energy more cheaply. Zen Home Energy Systems today unveiled a computer-controlled storage system-with one model about the size of a bar fridge-which almost doubles the effectiveness of batteries. "This technology is a game changer for the renewable energy industry and has the potential to change the way individuals and communities use electricity in the future", Zen Home Energy's chief executive officer, Richard Turner, said.

Mr Turner said as many as 10 Australian utilities are interested in trialling the system and the company has already begun shipping large-scale container-sized units to US clients. He predicts the new products may see Zen Home Energy increase its annual revenue from about $60 million now to $500 million within three to four years.

Residential units with a 20 kW story capacity-enough to power a typical house for 24 hours-will sell for $30,000 each. The hefty price tag should drop to $20,000 as Zen Home Energy scales up production, with an estimated pay-back period of 10 years based on savings consumers can make by avoiding peak power prices. In Victoria, off-peak prices are about 8¢ a kW versus 45¢ for peak times. The real savings, though, may come if power suppliers and users avoid excessive investment in new poles, wires and other equipment.

"The country is forecast to spend about $100 billion over the next ten years on infrastructure on what is an ageing and quite decrepit grid with an ever-increasing requirement for peak energy", Mr Turner said on the sidelines of the All-Energy conference in Melbourne. "A significant amount of those problems can be fixed through shifting the peak time load away from peak by simply storing energy when the grid's demand is low and using it when it's in high demand".

Mr Turner said one scenario would see utilities subsiding the use of storage systems for consumers. "We"ve got trials running with about three utilities in Australia with basically the balance of those (10) utilities all interested in running trials", he said, declining to name those involved. A Californian utility two weeks ago placed its third order of one of the company's large storage systems-capable of supplying six MWs-for $8 million, he said.

"This is going to be the future and it's going to be a significant cost benefit for the government, for the utilities".

Read More…

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Villagers vote to go ahead with wind turbine 'taller than Truro Cathedral'
10 Oct 2012

Campaigners squeezed a narrow victory in the first round of their fight to build a 76 metre (249ft) wind turbine in a Cornish village. The Low Carbon Ladock co-operative and Green Trust CIC are the two groups behind the bid to build the community-owned turbine on farm land east of New Mills at Ladock, near Truro. They believe the 500 800kW structure will power around a third of the electricity used each year by homes and businesses in the parish. At least £30,000 per year would also be generated for the local community according to the organisations.

Before planning permission can be submitted to Cornwall Council the co-operative and Green Trust CIC, a community energy company based in Cornwall wanted to test public support. Some 633 questionnaires were sent out to households in Ladock and neighbouring Grampound Road-308 were returned to independent market research company, PFA Research. Of those returnees, 56% were in favour of the turbine, 42% against and 2% declined to answer the question. Overall, 27% of households responded with a yes, 20% with a no, while 52% failed to respond.

Chris Jones chairman of Low Carbon Ladock said he was pleased the required amount of support had been garnered. He said: "The co-operative were quite clear that if we did not achieve a 55% yes vote then we would not even submit the planning application. "It is great to have passed that benchmark, meaning that we can now move forward to the planning process, but we must remember that it is the planning system that will really determine whether the community turbine will go ahead.

"We would have liked more returns as we want the whole community to be engaged, however, what is encouraging is that one in two households in the area participated in the consultation. "We know there are concerns from people who live near the proposed site, but we looked across the parish for a suitable site and are confident the one chosen is the best possible location to have a community turbine of significant scale".

Local resident Richard Conybeare, who lives at Ladock, said he was opposed to the turbine being erected in the village. He said: "While I am all for renewable energy and back a lot of what Low Carbon Ladock co-operative do, I don't believe such a huge structure is suitable in our village. "We're talking about building something that's two feet taller than Truro Cathedral".

Australia's largest solar farm opens amid renewable target debate
10 Oct 2012

(Reuters)-Australia switched on its first utility-scale solar farm on Wednesday, bringing the country a small step closer to achieving ambitious renewable energy use targets that traditional coal and gas power producers are now fighting to soften.

The Greenough River solar farm, just outside the small town of Walkaway in Western Australia state, is a joint-venture between Western Australian state-owned Verve Energy and U.S, conglomerate General Electric Co. It is expected to generate 10 MWs, enough to power 3,000 homes.

"The Greenough River solar farm demonstrates that renewable technologies can contribute to meeting Australia's future energy needs on a sustainable, cost-competitive basis", Jason Waters, chief executive of Verve Energy said on Wednesday. Australia has committed to getting 20% of its power from renewables by 2020 but big coal and gas-based utilities are arguing for generation targets to be cut.

The plant is General Electric Co's first investment in Australian renewable energy, and plans are already underway to eventually expand it to 40 MWs. The electricity generated by the plant will be purchased by Western Australia Water Corporation to power a nearby desalination plant.

Australia is one of the world's most ideal places for solar projects. It has the highest average solar radiation per m² of any continent in the world, according to government, and a population the size of New Delhi spread over an area the size of the contiguous United States. Australia currently gets about 10% of its electricity supply from renewable energy, about two-thirds of which comes from hydroelectric power.

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SunPower invests in Australian renewable electricity retailer Diamond Energy
9 Oct 2012

SunPower today announced that it has invested in Diamond Energy Pty Ltd, a privately-owned, alternative energy project developer and clean electricity retailer headquartered in Melbourne, Australia. Aligning with Diamond Energy will allow SunPower to offer more comprehensive and customizable clean energy solutions for customers in Australia. The unique partnership creates a one-stop shop for consumers, providing high efficiency solar electric systems, grid-source renewable energy, and retail services such as metering, billing, and management of exported electricity to the grid.

SunPower has acquired a minority stake of approximately 42% in Diamond Energy and under terms of the agreement has an option to increase its ownership percentage over time. SunPower will also assume a seat on the company's board of directors.

"SunPower is taking a step closer to its customers by investing in an electricity retailer like Diamond Energy", said Tom Werner, president and CEO of SunPower Corp. "More customers will see solar as a cost-effective way to meet growing energy demands, especially as the price of conventional grid power increases in Australia. Through this partnership, SunPower and Diamond Energy are poised to deliver affordable, renewable electricity services that cover everything from the generator to the household electricity meter. We look forward to this new venture and expect it to serve as a model for SunPower's continuing evolution into a complete energy solutions provider".

Established in 2004, Diamond Energy specializes in developing, delivering and managing renewable generation, cogeneration and interruptible load projects with a breadth of experience spanning solar, bioenergy, wind and wave technologies. The company currently owns two biogas plants, has power purchase agreements with a number of third-party generators and as Australia's "Solar Friendly Retailer" sells clean energy through its retail divisions to its residential and Commercial Green customers. Diamond Energy holds licenses to deliver electricity across the National Electricity Market Management Company (NEM) in Australia.

"This investment by SunPower supports the growth and strengthens Diamond Energy for the upcoming clean energy revolution", said Diamond Energy Managing Director Tony Sennitt. "We generate change here at Diamond, and through this relationship we will be able to bring the world's most efficient and reliable solar technology to a broad range of households and businesses throughout Australia at affordable prices. We look forward, with SunPower's support, to expanding the business into a shining, renewable example of what can be achieved when innovative value is delivered to customers".

Victorian Wind Alliance to promote industry
9 Oct 2012

A NEW organisation aimed at building support for wind power in Victoria is set to launch tomorrow.

The Victorian Wind Alliance, made up of wind workers, landowners, environmental and community groups and anyone else who supports wind power, hopes to promote the wind power sector in the face of a halt in wind farm developments.

"The premise is that the majority of Victorians and the majority of Australians support the development of renewable energy", Friends of the Earth campaigns co-ordinator Cam Walker said. "Here in Victoria, the government has largely stalled action on renewable energy. "We want to create a community movement that allows the silent majority to express that support".

It was revealed in July that planning laws introduced by the Victorian Government in August last year had resulted in no new applications to build wind farms in the state. The guidelines prohibit wind farm developers building turbines within 2km of a home without the owner's written consent. A number of "no-go zones" were also declared in Victoria.

This was despite more than 75% of regional and city dwellers pledging their support for wind farms in a Clean Energy Council survey in June. Around 1200 people were quizzed across Victoria, NSW and South Australia. The Victorian Wind Alliance will release a wind power 'pledge' tomorrow and launch a website where people can register their support. Mr Walker said "several hundred people" had already expressed interest in joining the alliance.

The Friends of the Earth member said harnessing the wind to provide clean energy would have many benefits for Victoria, environmentally and financially. "When wind farms are built in Victoria, they are worth around $16 million for landowners (per year)", Mr Walker said. "When all wind farms are built they generate $4.5 million a year for Victorian local councils. "Hundreds of people are also employed directly when wind farms are built".

Sunday 14 October 2012

The sickening truth about wind farm syndrome
8 Oct 2012

Hilltop turbines are being blamed for myriad maladies. What is the truth behind these outlandish claims?

NEW technology has long attracted "modern health worries". Microwave ovens, television and computer screens and even early telephony all caused anxiety in their time. More recently, cellphones and towers, Wi-Fi and smart electricity meters have followed suit.

Another is gathering attention; the very modern malaise known as wind turbine syndrome. I set out to collect the conditions attributed to wind farm exposure. Within hours, I'd found 50 often florid assertions about different illnesses. Today my total sits at 198, with a range redolent of Old Testament plagues.

The list includes "deaths, yes, many deaths", none of which have ever come to the attention of a coroner, cancers, congenital malformations, and every manner of psychiatric problem. But mostly, it includes common health problems found in all communities, with wind turbines or not. These include greying hair, energy loss, concentration lapses, weight gain and all the problems of ageing. Sleep problems are mentioned most, but insomnia is incredibly common. Animals get a look in. Chickens won't lay; earthworms vanish; hundreds of cattle and goats die horrible deaths from "stray electricity".

In a 35 year career in public health, I have never encountered anything quite so apocalyptic. I've visited wind farms and compared their gentle swoosh to the noises that all city dwellers live with daily. Quickly, this phenomenon began to tick psychogenic boxes.

There are several reasons to suspect that the unrecognised entity of wind turbine syndrome is psychogenic: a "communicated" disease spread by anti-wind interest groups, sometimes with connections to fossil fuel interests. People can worry themselves sick.

Firstly, there are the temporal problems. Wind farms appeared some 20 years ago in the US. There are now just shy of 200,000 turbines globally. But the first recorded claims that they caused disease came a decade later. Two rural doctors, one in the UK and the other in Australia, made claims repeated widely in newspapers but never published in any journal. Turbines have come to be blamed for chronic conditions like (amazingly) lung and skin cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and stroke. But importantly also acute symptoms, that according to Australia's high priestess of wind turbine syndrome, Sarah Laurie, an unregistered doctor, can commence within 20 minutes of exposure. If true, what happened in the early complaint-free years?

Then there's the issue of clustering. The European wind industry sees the phenomenon as largely anglophone, and even then, only in particular regions and around certain farms. Many sites have run for years without complaint. Others, legendary for their vocal opponents even before start up, are hot beds of disease claims. So if turbines were inherently noxious, why do they cut such a selective path? Why do citizens of community-owned turbines in Germany and Denmark rarely complain? Why are complaints rare in western Australia, but rife in several eastern Australian communities?

Opponents readily concede that only a minority of those exposed report being ill but explain this via the analogy of motion sickness: it only happens to those who are susceptible. How then to explain that whole regions and indeed nations, have no susceptible people? The key factor seems to be the presence or absence of anti-wind activists, generally from outside the area.

It is clear the presence of these anti-wind "vectors" is required. Communities which have for years accepted the farms can erupt when activists arrive, spreading alarm and listing health problems. Prominent among these in Australia are wealthy conservative landowners appalled by the very visible presence of the tall green-energy totems, a constant reminder of bucolic decay and the "upstairs-downstairs" disdain they have for those needing income from their often hilly, poorer quality land.

The fact that money seems to be a magic antidote to these ailments further undermines the claims. Health complaints are as rare as rocking horse excrement among turbine hosts. Complaints are rare from those financially benefitting from communal ownership arrangements. It tends to be neighbours of those hosting turbines who make the link with illness. They see the turbines, dislike them and dwell on their misfortune. The perceived injustice can eat away at some, fomented by organised groups.

Wind companies also report residents approaching them with extensive renovation wish lists. One told me of a request for a house to be moved to a lake shore. In rural Australia, residential buy-outs by mining companies are common. Word spreads about shack owners who got lucky. So when a cashed-up company appears, it is understandable that some may see their ticket out via protracted complaints.

Opponents also claim that confidentiality clauses are used to gag hosts, so they can't speak up about illnesses. I've seen several contracts and, predictably, none involve signing away common law rights to claims of negligence.

Finally, there are the apocryphal tales about many families having to abandon their homes. Mysteriously, address lists are never produced. Abandoning unsaleable properties is a sad part of rural decay, a fact which seems to escape fly-in, fly-out climate change denialists.

Previous modern health worries dissipated when the predicted health mayhem never emerged and the feared exotic agents became thoroughly familiar. Hysteria about cellphone towers had its heyday in the late 1990s, at least in Australia, but is rare today. With 17 reviews of the evidence on harm caused by wind farms consistent in their assessment of insignificant risk, how long can this one last?

Simon Chapman is professor in public health at the Sydney University, Australia

Epuron acquires Australia's largest tracking solar power plant from SunPower
3 Oct 2012

SAN JOSE, Calif., and SYDNEY, Oct. 3, 2012 - SunPower Corp, and Epuron today announced that Epuron has acquired the 1 MW Uterne solar power plant operating in Alice Springs, Australia. Commonwealth Bank, Australia's leading provider of integrated financial services, has provided project financing, making it the country's first major bank to support a solar project of this size.

The project was developed by SunPower with the support of Power and Water Corporation. Under a solar power purchase agreement, Power and Water Corporation will buy generated electricity at a guaranteed rate over a 20 year term. Following the acquisition, SunPower will continue to provide operations and maintenance services in conjunction with Ogden Power, a SunPower accredited solar company based in Alice Springs.

"Epuron's acquisition of Uterne underscores the bankability of SunPower's industry-leading, high efficiency technology, decades of proven experience and more than 2,500 MWs deployed globally", said Howard Wenger, SunPower president, regions. "This solar power plant has exceeded reliability and energy production expectations since it was commissioned in June 2011, and will reliably generate power and return on investment for the life of the system".

"The acquisition of Uterne further demonstrates Epuron's commitment to a growing solar portfolio in the Northern Territory", said Epuron Executive Director Andrew Durran. "The project is a great addition to our 1 MW remote TKLN Solar project, making Epuron one of the largest solar project owners and asset managers in Australia. Epuron is especially pleased to be able to project finance the acquisition through CBA, a first for a project of this size in Australia".

Uterne is comprised of high efficiency SunPower solar panels installed on the SunPower(R) T20 Tracker, which positions panels to follow the sun during the day, increasing daily energy production by up to 30% over conventional fixed-tilt installations. In August 2012, Uterne received an Engineering Excellence Award from the Institution of Engineers Australia.

The development of Uterne was made possible with funding assistance from the Australian Government as part of its Solar Cities program. The solar power plant is a key component of the Alice Solar City program and illustrates the initiative's success in developing more sustainable energy solutions in Australia.

'Hundreds of problems' at EU nuclear plants
2 Oct 2012

Hundreds of problems have been found at European nuclear plants that would cost up to 25bn euros (£20bn) to fix, says a leaked draft report. The report, commissioned after Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster, aimed to see how Europe's nuclear power stations would cope during extreme emergencies. The final report comes out on Thursday. The draft says nearly all the EU's 145 nuclear reactors need improving.

Anti-nuclear groups say the report's warnings do not go far enough. For its part, the regulatory body for European nuclear safety has urged the Commission not to use language that could undermine public confidence, says the BBC's Chris Morris in Brussels.

French failings
The report-the wording of which could change before Thursday's final version is published-points out that in the EU, 47 nuclear power plants with 111 reactors have more than 100,000 inhabitants living within a circle of 30km. "On the basis of the stress test results practically all [nuclear plants] need to undergo safety improvements", says the leaked draft. "Hundreds of technical upgrade measures have already been identified.

"Following the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, urgent measures to protect nuclear plants were agreed. The stress tests demonstrated that even today, decades later, their implementation is still pending in some member states". Four reactors in two unnamed countries would have less than an hour to restore safety functions if electrical power was lost, it adds. In France, Europe's largest nuclear power producer which relies on 58 nuclear reactors for 80% of its electricity, specific failings were found in all 58 nuclear reactors.

Earlier this month, a blast of escaping steam burned two people at the Fessenheim power station in eastern France-one of the country's oldest nuclear reactors which has long been the target of regular anti-nuclear protests. Fessenheim, close to France's borders with Germany and Switzerland, opened in 1977 and draws water for cooling from the Rhine, but campaigners say its location makes it vulnerable to seismic activity and flooding. Shortcomings were also reported in the UK. Most of the country's power plants lacked an alternative emergency control room to use if the main one became contaminated by high radiation, says the report.

The UK's Department of Energy said there was no evidence UK nuclear facilities were unsafe. "However, the Government is committed to the principle of continuous improvement", a spokesman told the BBC. "We are working closely with the Office for Nuclear Regulation to ensure that operators address any site specific issues using the existing robust UK regulatory regime, which requires operators to take all reasonably practicable steps to reduce risk and seek continuous improvements to safety".

Call for closures
While the stress tests found deficiencies in many of Europe's nuclear reactors, campaigners say they failed to address risks in crucial areas, such as ageing technology, terrorist attacks or human error. "If this exercise was serious, the Commission should be recommending the closure of unsafe or ageing reactors", said Rebecca Harms, co-president of the Greens/European Free Alliance at the European Parliament.

"At the very least, the Commission should be pressing for the security deficiencies identified in the report to be rectified". As of June, all 145 nuclear plants in the EU were to be reassessed using criteria covering both natural and man-made hazards. Some governments have reappraised their nuclear power strategy in the aftermath of last year's Fukushima disaster, with Germany deciding to abandon nuclear power for green technology and cleaner gas-and coal-powered plants by 2022.

Others, like France, have boosted investment in nuclear power since the meltdown. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant's cooling systems were knocked out by the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The disaster caused a meltdown at three of the reactors.