Saturday 27 October 2012

Yallourn Power Station downsize shows Renewable Energy Target is working

Clean Energy Council
17 Oct 2012

The peak body for Australia's clean energy industry said today's announcement that part of the coal-fired Yallourn W power station would be mothballed showed that cleaner sources of power were gradually replacing the country's highest-polluting power generation. Clean Energy Council Chief Executive David Green said if Australia was serious about transitioning to a clean energy future, then such shifts in the way electricity was generated were to be expected.

"Six weeks ago renewable energy was wrongly criticised in some quarters for not reducing emissions, and now Australia's 20% Renewable Energy Target has been criticised for being too effective", Mr Green said. "The fact is, the Renewable Energy Target is doing exactly what it is supposed to: aiding Australia's transition to a cleaner energy system and hunting out the least-cost ways of doing this.

"Not only that, while providing the country with clean energy such as solar, wind, bioenergy and hydroelectric, it has also delivered billions of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs, along with increased protection against the volatile costs of fossil fuels. And it has the potential to deliver much more if kept in place and not tinkered with".

However, the policy is currently under review by the Climate Change Authority, which is under pressure from some energy companies who want it scaled back in order to maintain their dominance of the market.

"People are using less fossil fuelled electricity because of the increased contribution of large-scale clean energy such as wind, rising power prices, mild weather and better energy efficiency at home as well as through technologies like solar power. Contrary to the predictions of some doomsayers, the lights are still on and our energy sources are still secure. "It's not surprising the impact of all this is being felt by some of the big fossil fuelled power generators.

"But it is too early to say whether any forecast reduction in demand for energy will be a long-term trend or whether it will increase again if we all turn the air conditioning on over a few hot summers, or the exchange rate changes and manufacturing picks up", he said.

CSIRO in funding bid to predict solar power flow
24 Oct 2012

We may be a nation of sun-worshippers but when it comes to forecasting where the sun shines longest, Australia's energy authorities are stuck in the dark ages.

The CSIRO is hoping to fill that information void with a lot more riding on it than the best place to get that tan. Energy energy suppliers-current and future-need the data to predict how much solar electricity is likely to flow through the nation's power grids.

For potential developers of large-scale solar power plants, radiation records are needed to bolster investment certainty as they try to secure finance from bankers or government agencies. The real urgency for hard numbers, though, is coming from the rapid take-up of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, with the total now approaching 900,000 across the country.

"It's essentially an unknown quantity what those cities full of roof-top PV are producing and we'd like to be able to forecast it", said Peter Coppin, the senior renewable energy researcher leading CSIRO's bid. The Australian Solar Institute, due to be rolled in to the larger Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) at the end of the year, has earmarked funds for solar resource forecasting techniques.

The ASI funding will be announced within weeks with CSIRO and its partners' bid seen likely to succeed. The institute co-sponsored a talk yesterday by Dr Coppin at the Sydney offices of law firm Baker and McKenzie.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), a member of the bid consortium along with the Bureau of Meteorology, installed an advanced forecasting system for wind four years ago to help it manage a big increase in wind farms.

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$3 billion overcharge on power bills: ACCC
24 Oct 2012

Electricity users are being overcharged by as much as $3 billion due to the poor way the industry has been run, with power companies able to "cherry pick" the way the government regulates their spending plans. And much of this burden has been borne by NSW consumers, with at least $2 billion of this due to allowing higher than necessary allowances for their borrowings.

In a strongly worded speech to an energy gathering, to be given today, the chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Mr Rod Sims, blames much of the rise in electricity prices-which have doubled in some parts of NSW over past few years-on unnecessary spending on "poles and wires" which has made up as much as half of the spending over the past five years.

But the poor way the Federal government has controlled the spending has resulted in the industry regulator, the Australian Energy Regulator, having "little ability,.. to deal with excessive forecasts". This has allowed the power companies able to "cherry pick" decisions, adding as much as $3 billion to electricity bills, Mr Sims said.

The burden was heaviest on NSW consumers, since electricity companies were allowed to inflate their costs by "nearly $2 billion" he said, by claiming that they faced higher interest rates than was the case. "Further 'lead' in the saddle bag has been provided by the decisions in Queensland and NSW to make networks meet higher reliability standards", Mr Sims said, which was spending the government regulator could not block.

"The increased cost of electricity has also harmed the competitiveness of Australian businesses and indeed the entire Australian economy". "Electricity prices have risen by more than they should have. While there have been legitimate drivers for some increases, prices have also increased for a number of unnecessary and inappropriate reasons. Mr Sims called for the industry regulator, the AER, to be retained as an arm of the ACCC, rather than split off, as some groups have sought.

Power pollution plunges
18 Oct 2012

THE carbon tax has helped to drive a sharp fall in the emissions intensity of Australia's power generation as coal-fired stations are closed, moth-balled or sell less electricity.

As Victoria's Yallourn brown coal-fired power station became the latest to announce a production cut, experts said falling demand for electricity, more renewables such as wind farms and solar, and the carbon price were all pushing Australia's coal-fired stations out of the market, making generation cleaner.

Electricity sold into the east coast market in the three months since the tax was introduced created on average 7.6% less CO₂ for each MW of power, an analysis of figures compiled by the Australian Energy Market Operator shows.

Compared with the same three months last year, the decline in emissions was about 6.3%, after seasonal differences are ironed out. Climate Change Minister Greg Combet talked up the role of the $23 a-tonne carbon price in the shift. ''It is significant that the emissions intensity of the electricity generation system has fallen in the first quarter of the carbon price,'' he said.

Hazelwood power station outside Morwell in Victoria. ''It is also significant that,.. about 3000 MWs of high-polluting electricity generation has closed or phased down. ''The carbon price is a key driver of these changes, although it is not the only factor at work.''

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Thursday 25 October 2012

Don’t cut clean energy while there’s a full head of steam
15 Oct 2012

Australia gets about 10% of its electricity from renewable energy and we’re shooting for double that by the end of the decade under our national 20% Renewable Energy Target. Australia currently gets about 10% of its electricity from renewable energy and we're shooting for double that by the end of the decade under our national 20% Renewable Energy Target.

So far this policy has delivered thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment, and is capable of much more if the Federal Government can resist tinkering with it. It's a classic case of "if it am't broke, don't fix it". The idea of producing pollution-free power just seems to make sense to people, which is why between 80-90% of people voice their support whenever a poll does the rounds. So far our politicians have acted to give them what they want.

The Renewable Energy Target is designed to deliver 20% of Australia's electricity from sources such as sun, wind, waves, bioenergy and others by the year 2020. Originally introduced by the Howard Government in 2001, the target was expanded by the Rudd Government in 2009 and is starting to hit its stride.

Business often talks about moving goalposts, but changing the way the scheme works now really would be like the AFL or the NRL changing the rules of the game halfway through the premiership season. It would mean that all the pre-season training, all the effort to recruit the best players and all the hours spent on strategy were irrelevant

Right now, major investors are mostly watching cautiously from the sidelines as the Federal Government's Climate Change Authority reviews the Renewable Energy Target. The authority is under pressure from a range of energy companies who are lobbying hard to have the target scaled back, or even dumped altogether, so they can carve out a bigger slice of the pie for either gas or coal.

But the effect of making major changes to the Renewable Energy Target wouldn't be just to lose a few matches-it would be measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars in investment and the thousands of jobs that would be lost. Ultimately it would be like a season where there was no winner-only losers. All over the world, interest in the renewable energy sector is at a record high, with US$257 billion being pumped into it last year across the globe.

Over the past decade, investors in Australia have chipped in around $18.5 billion of their own, with more than $3.5 billion in projects under construction. Large clean-energy projects supply enough clean energy for the equivalent of 2.1 million households. A further 1.5 million homes have solar panels or solar hot water. And there's potentially much more to come.

Vested interests that want to see the target changed or removed have been making a big deal about its costs. But those costs make up only a small percentage of the average power bill-7% versus the 40% contributed by upgrading poles and wires. What's more, the costs of meeting the target are going down as renewable energy falls in price and government incentives to buy solar power are wound back.

At the moment you're looking at less than $2 per week for an average household going towards renewable energy. In 2020 it will be about half that, provided the current Renewable Energy Target remains unchanged. That's a small price for tens of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars of investments and to protect us from the future impact of rising gas prices.

While speculation about the future of the carbon price remains, the Renewable Energy Target has been one of the few investment-grade policies that Australia's electricity generators have been able to rely on. This is largely because it is supported by all sides of politics.

The renewable energy industry has repeatedly outperformed expectations, forecasts and previous targets. If the government can resist the urge to intervene in the Renewable Energy Target, clean energy companies and investors can start to get on with the business of kicking some serious goals for Australia.

Kane Thornton is deputy chief executive of the Clean Energy Council

Siemens starts testing of 6 MW wind turbine featuring 75 m blades
12 Oct 2012

Siemens Energy has begun field testing of its new 154 m rotor for its 6 MW offshore wind turbine in Osterild, Denmark. The SWT-6.0 154 turbine is equipped with the world's longest rotor blades-each blade is 75 m in length.

The B75 blade used in the new rotor is characterised by high stability and low weight. Special aerodynamic profiles deliver optimum performance at a wide range of wind speeds. For the manufacturing of the B75 blade, Siemens uses the patented IntegralBlade(R) process, which permits rotor blades to be produced from a single moulding without adhesive joints. An IntegralBlade is up to 20% lighter than blades manufactured with traditional methods, Siemens says.

Each SWT 6.0 154 turbine can produce 25 million kWs of electricity in offshore locations, enough to supply 6000 households. In May 2011, Siemens installed the first prototype of its new 6 MW turbine using a 120 m rotor. It has now been operating successfully for well over a year. The serial version of the 6 MW turbine will use the 154 m rotor. Siemens developed the SWT-6.0 specifically for demanding conditions in offshore locations.

In July 2012, Siemens entered into a Master Agreement with the Danish energy group DONG Energy for the delivery of 300 offshore turbines of this 6 MW turbine. The wind turbines are expected to be used in projects off the coast of the UK.

Siemens will soon install two more SWT-6.0 prototypes in the British offshore wind power plant, Gunfleet Sands. This will be the first time that the Siemens 6 MW wind turbine will be tested offshore. Both machines for this project will be equipped with the 120 m rotor.

New laser technology stirs nuclear bomb proliferation fears
11 Oct 2012

  • Enrichment firm says laser method key to US "energy security"
  • Some nuclear experts worry about proliferation risks
  • They say laser enrichment plants smaller, harder to detect
  • Iran says it "possesses" laser know-how but won't use it

VIENNA, Oct 11 (Reuters)-A new way of making nuclear fuel with lasers may help cut costs and ensure energy security but could also make it easier for rogue states to secretly build nuclear weapons if they got hold of the know-how. A debate about the benefits and dangers of using lasers instead of centrifuges to enrich uranium underlines the sensitivities surrounding nuclear activity that can have both civilian and military applications.

Iran, whose underground centrifuge plants and history of hiding nuclear work from UN inspectors have raised Western suspicions of a covert atom bomb programme and prompted Israeli threats to attack Iranian nuclear sites, says it already has laser technology but experts doubt Tehran has mastered it.

Uranium can provide the explosive core of a nuclear warhead if refined to a high fissile concentration, explaining why any country or other actor interested in obtaining nuclear arms might be eager to learn about technical advances in enrichment.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) last month issued a license to a partnership between General Electric Co, and Japan's Hitachi Ltd to build and run a laser enrichment plant for manufacturing reactor fuel. It would be the world's first facility to refine uranium on a commercial scale using lasers, a technique "particularly suited for nuclear proliferation", said Assistant Professor R. Scott Kemp of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

"It appears that they have allowed the license to go forward without a serious review of the proliferation implications", said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based advocacy and research group. An NRC spokesman said a State Department assessment in 1999 concluded essentially that it was in the U.S, interest to bring the Australian technology "here, where it could be properly safeguarded, rather than having other countries develop it".

Citing an NRC letter to U.S, lawmakers two years ago, David McIntyre added that NRC requirements-covering the facility's security and protection of classified information-"effectively protect against the threat of proliferation". Kimball disagreed. "History shows that even the best efforts to safeguard sensitive enrichment technologies can and will eventually fail".

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