Wednesday 6 March 2013

Tens of thousands yet to install solar power after sign-up frenzy
18 Feb 2013

MORE than 42,000 Queenslanders who scrambled to secure generous government solar incentives are yet to follow through with their green dream. The industry is baffled by the poor uptake, given the frenzied lead-up to the end of the 44¢/kW feed-in tariff. To access the outgoing rate, customers had to register interest by July 9 last year.

Systems must be installed and meter upgrades organised with Energex by June 30 to qualify for the higher tariff. After this, the benefit earned by households exporting power to the electricity grid will drop to 8¢/kW. Solar firms are unsure whether customers are leaving it until the last minute, or simply do not have the cash to pursue installations.

They say those who leave it much longer risk missing out on massive long-term gains. Energex's latest report to the industry hails the success of approvals sparked by the 44¢ Solar Bonus Scheme. However it reveals that of 75,000 applications lodged prior to July 2012, more than 42,000 were "unactioned" as of last month.

About 26,000 agreements sent to customers had not been signed and returned, and 16,000 of those that had been filled out and received were yet to lead to installations. Ron Flynn, of Sunshine Coast-based SolarOn, said business had slowed despite the massive rush of applications mid-last year.

"For some reason people are sitting on their hands. Perhaps they will realise in coming weeks and there will be a rush leading up to the cut-off date", Mr Flynn said. "The 44¢ feed-in tariff is a gift, and it will go to waste if those who are eligible don't follow through".

Mr Flynn said some customers also may not be confident in their original solar company, and may be unaware they can transfer to another. As of last October, there were more than 175,000 properties in southeast Queensland with solar power-up from 148,300 in June, and the fewer than 1000 in late 2008 when incentive programs were launched.

Energex is advising solar companies to ensure their customer has signed and returned the agreement prior to installation commencing. Although existing owners will retain the higher rebate until 2028, anyone who sells their house will lose the 44¢/kW rebate and new owners will get the lower rate.

Fremantle community group continue push for wind farm in port
15 Feb 2013

The Fremantle Community Wind Farm group is continuing its push to have a wind power farm of up to 9.6MW located in the Port of Fremantle, enlisting the support of local council and wind turbine manufacturer Enercon as it fights resistance from the port authority. The organisation wants to install eight to 12 turbines along the breakwater around Rouse Head Harbour, but the Fremantle Port Authority, which owns the land, has been opposed to the idea.

At a meeting on Thursday, Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt said the council remained supportive of the project, given its exposure to the "Fremantle Doctor" and the fact that the turbines would be hidden among the port's infrastructure. The turbines would be around 800kW each, and would be the same height as the existing container cranes on the port. Depending on the number of turbines, the wind farm would have a capacity of between 6.4MW and 9.6MW.

Jorn Kristensen, Enercon's Senior Sales Manager said he was surprised to hear the Fremantle Port Authority was concerned about operational or social risks to the port. "We have our wind turbines running at,.. at similarly high-profile ports, including at Bristol Port in the UK and the Mucuripe Port Wind Farm in Brazil. And there are many others. These projects have been very successful, and very well received by the local communities".

Jamie Ally, who is project manager for the Fremantle Community wind farm team, said the project is commercially viable and does not require any additional funding from the State government. "From an engineering point of view the construction of the turbines will be relatively straightforward. However, the management of Fremantle Ports has told us that the port will not allow a wind farm on Port land", he said. "It is frustrating to see such a great project, which is proposed to be built on state land at no cost to government, stuck at the gates because it is being blocked by a State Government business".

Bursting the carbon bubble
15 Feb 2013

AT 2PM last Tuesday, in San Francisco's city hall the regular council meeting was called to order as usual. But councillor John Avalos proposed a decidedly irregular resolution: the city's retirement fund should withdraw its money from fossil fuels. ''San Francisco has aggressive goals to address climate change,'' he said. ''It's important that we apply these same values when we decide how to invest our funds.''

Avalos isn't the first official to say so. In December, Seattle mayor Mike McGinn declared that the city's cash balances-the $US1.4 billion it uses to manage its daily operations-would no longer be invested in fossil fuel stocks. He also wrote to the city pension fund, which counts Exxon-Mobil and Chevron among its major holdings, requesting it do the same.

The deliberations in the two west coast cities made a media splash, adding momentum to America's fastest growing social movement: ''Go Fossil Free'', a nation-wide blitz calling for universities, governments and churches to freeze new investments in fossil fuel assets, and to sell what they've already got.

The impetus for the campaign is a set of simple numbers-a global carbon budget. It's a way of framing the climate crisis that is now uniting student activists and market analysts. The former use the numbers to prosecute a moral case that the fossil fuel industry has gone rogue; the latter, for a cold-blooded calculation that trading away from carbon-heavy assets is in an investor's own interest.

The numbers were set out in a report called ''Unburnable Carbon'', which was released last year by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a group of analysts and environmentalists in the UK. It highlighted the work of the Potsdam Climate Institute, which in 2009 produced a set of emissions scenarios together with their likely influence on global temperatures.

These are the numbers: for a low chance-one-in-five-of exceeding 2° warming, we can only emit another 565 Gt of CO₂ by mid-century. But proven fossil fuel reserves (held by listed corporations, private companies and nation states) equate to 2795 Gt-five times the carbon budget. In Copenhagen in 2009, the world's governments agreed to limit warming to 2°. To do so, four-fifths of our fuel must stay in the ground.

Colourful 'solar glass' means entire buildings can generate clean power
12 Feb 2013

A solar power company capable of "printing" colourful glass that can generate electricity from the sun's energy announced a £2m funding boost on Tuesday. Oxford Photovoltaics, a spin-off from the University of Oxford, said the investment from clean-tech investors MTI Partners will help its solar glass, which can be dyed almost any colour, take a step closer to the commercial market.

"What we say here is rather than attach [solar] photovoltaics to the building, why not make the building the photovoltaics?" Kevin Arthur, the company's founder and CEO, told the Guardian. "If you decide to build a building out of glass, then you've already decided to pay for the glass. If you add this, you're adding a very small extra cost. [The solar cell treatment] costs no more than 10% of the cost of the facade". These generally cost between £600 and £1,000 per m², meaning the new cell treatment wouild cost just £60 £100 extra per m².

The technology works by adding a layer of transparent solid-state solar cells at most three microns thick to conventional glass, in order to turn around 12% of the solar power received into low-carbon electricity. The power can then be exported to the national grid or used for the running of a building.

"Within reason we can print any colour, there's a wide range of dyes, blues and greens and reds and so on. But different colours have different efficiencies: black is very high, green is pretty good and red is good, but blue is less good", said Arthur.

The £2m investment will pay for equipment and recruiting staff for the company's new base on the Begbroke Science Park near Oxford. The company is looking to build a much larger manufacturing facility next year, with full size panels available for sampling and trials at the end of 2014. A4 sized samples will be ready by the end of 2013. While the company is mostly targeting customers planning new buildings, it also "very interested" in retrofits on the facades of existing buildings.

Separately, a team at the University of Sheffield and University of Cambridge this week said they had succeeded in developing a process to 'spray paint' solar cells on to surfaces and, potentially in the future, roofs and buildings. The teams believe the process could significantly cut the cost of solar in the future, but currently only works on "very smooth" surfaces and is less efficient than conventional solar panels.

Professor David Lidzey from the University of Sheffield said: "Spray coating is currently used to apply paint to cars and in graphic printing. We have shown that it can also be used to make solar cells using specially designed plastic semiconductors. Maybe in the future surfaces on buildings and even car roofs will routinely generate electricity with these materials".

Solar power worldwide reached 100GW installed capacity last year for the first time, up from 71GW in 2011 and just 40GW in 2010, according to recent trade body figures.

Monday 4 March 2013

Hepburn Wind continues to make us proud
13 Feb 2013

Hepburn Wind is continuing to cement itself as a mover and shaker in the renewable energy field, both nationally and on the world stage. The Daylesford-based co-operative opened its wind farm at Leonard's Hill at the weekend so people could watch renowned Melbourne artist Ghostpatrol (David Booth) paint a mural on one of the turbines. The artwork is a first for an Australian wind turbine and just another example of Hepburn Wind's good work.

Hepburn Wind is Australia's first community-owned wind farm and was recently honoured in Canberra for doing Australia proud by winning the World Wind Energy Award. What a fantastic achievement. More than 300 people visited the wind farm on Sunday as part of the statewide Sustainable Living Festival.

The positive community response highlights the ever increasing awareness of our need to embrace renewable energy and more sustainable living practices into the future. Hepburn Wind's supporters can be proud to know similar projects are being taken up around Victoria with the co-operative offering moral support and advice for groups in Castlemaine and Woodend. So when you get a chance to look at the new artwork at the Leonards Hill wind farm, you can be proud to know Hepburn Wind is doing the Hepburn Shire Council proud.

Bumper year for solar and wind energy
12 Feb 2013

2012 was another bumper year for renewable energy worldwide with solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity surpassing 100 GWs for the first time and wind power capacity expanding by almost one-fifth. Rapid growth outside Europe saw a total of about 32 GW of solar PV capacity installed, bringing capacity to 101 GW and narrowly pipping the 30 GWs taken up in 2011, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association said, citing preliminary figures.

"No one would have predicted even 10 years ago that we would see more than 100 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity in the world by 2012", said EPIA President Winfried Hoffmann. "The photovoltaic industry clearly faces challenges but the results of 2012 show there is a strong global market for our technology. Solar photovoltaic plants can now generate as much electricity in a year as about 16 mid-sized coal-fired or nuclear power stations, the lobby group said.

Australian surge
Australia added about 1 GW of solar PV capacity last year, lifting the country's capacity about 70% to 2.4 GW, according to the Australian Solar Council.

The wholesale price of solar PV is now as low as 55¢ per watt of power, down from an average of $7 in 2008, said John Grimes, chief executive of the Australian Solar Council. With some consumers in NSW, for instance, paying more than 50¢ per kW-hour for peak power, solar power is becoming "an absolute no-brainer", Mr Grimes said. "The fundamental economics are now driving the uptake of solar, rather than government support".

Demand for new PV panels was quiet at the start of the year but has picked up in recent weeks, suggesting 2013 demand will probably land between the 840 MW to 1 GW levels installed in the past two years, he said. Policy uncertainty remains, though, with the government now considering a recommendation by the Climate Change Authority in its review of the Renewable Energy Target to cut the size of commercial PV installations eligible for the small-scale solar scheme from 100 to 10 kW capacity.

"That would be an enormous brake on the take-up of solar in commercial and industry areas'' if accepted by the government, and curb job growth in a sector already employing about 25,000 people, Mr Grimes said. The crash in solar PV prices has largely been prompted by Chinese producers flooding the market with low-cost panels. The expansion of the global market came even as new European capacity slumped amid subsidy cuts by governments.

Countries outside Europe added more than 13 GW of solar capacity last year, compared with less than 8 GW in 2011, driven by China, the US and Japan, the data show. Germany, home to a third of the world's solar panels, remained the biggest market after adding 7.6 GW, while Europe as a whole installed 17 GWs, down from 23 GW.

Research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance released last week found that new solar and wind capacity is now cheaper than the cost of building new coal-fired power plants in Australia.

Wind power accelerates
In a separate statement, the Global Wind Energy Council said installed capacity expanded 19% last year, with 44.7 GW of turbines built. The total of new capacity beat the previous record 40.6 GW installed in 2011 by just over 10%. Figures for Australia show the country added 358 MWs of new wind capacity, lifting the total by 16% to 2.584 GW, the Council said.

A rush by wind farm developers in the US to beat an anticipated expiration of the US Production Tax Credit saw the country install more than 8 GW of capacity in the final three months of 2012 alone. All up the US added 13.1 GW of capacity in 2012, leaving it just shy of the estimated 13.2 GW added by China.

"While China paused for breath, both the US and European markets had exceptionally strong years", Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council, said in a statement on the group's website. "Asia still led global markets, but with North America a close second, and Europe not far behind".

Europe set a record with 12.4 GW of wind power added, as markets such as Sweden, Romania, Italy and Poland posted quicker growth. The outlook remains uncertain, though, as the region's on-going sovereign debt crises limits government support, the council said. The region, though, continues to lead the market for offshore wind farms, with 1.166 GW added, accounting for more than 90% of total offshore installations of 1.293 GW in 2012, the council said.

Wind power is now cheaper than coal in some countries
11 Feb 2013

When many countries are choosing their next generation of power stations, they will be tempted to pick wind turbines. Thanks to better design, building wind farms can now be cheaper than building new coal or gas power stations.

Figures from Bloomberg New Energy Finance show that this is already the case in Australia. Any wind farms built now would generate electricity for between A$80 (about US$80) and A$113 per MW, whereas new coal plants would cost A$176/MWh. In Australia, coal's high cost is partly due to the nation's carbon tax, but new coal power stations would still cost A$126/MWh even in the absence of the tax.

Better designs
Wind is the latest renewable energy source to become competitive, after the price of solar power fell 75% between 2008 and 2011. That was driven by economies of scale, as Chinese manufacturers learned how to make large quantities of panels quickly and cheaply. Wind is a different story. "For wind it's more about the technology", says Guy Turner of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Better designs, including longer blades and taller turbines have all boosted efficiency.

The design of wind farms has also improved. Wind becomes turbulent in the lee of turbines, which makes those behind them less efficient, says Turner. So companies now use fluid dynamics modelling to arrange their turbines. A recent analysis found that staggering them created higher wind speeds and less turbulence, compared with straight rows (Boundary-Layer Meteorology,

International differences
The costs of installing wind and coal vary between countries. Building coal-fired power stations remains relatively cheap in China. But, every time the Brazilian government has asked power companies to bid for contracts over the past five years, new wind farms have come out cheaper than new fossil fuelled power stations. And according to the Global Wind Energy Council in Brussels, Belgium, the amount of wind capacity installed worldwide rose 19% last year.

Wind is seen as a safer long-term investment, says Turner. "Investors are nervous about building a new coal plant". While renewable sources are increasingly favoured by governments, fossil fuels face an uncertain future as countries try to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Existing coal-fired power plants remain cheap to run, in part because coal itself is cheap. But building new plants is a risky bet, says Turner. "If you had to build a new generation, that's where wind comes out cheaper".

Wind power capacity grew 20% globally in 2012, figures show
11 Feb 2013

Wind power expanded by almost 20% in 2012 around the world to reach a new peak of 282 GWs (GW) of total installed capacity, while solar power reached more than 100GW, having more than doubled in two years. More than 45GW of new wind turbines arrived in 2012, with China and the US leading the way with 13GW each, while Germany, India and the UK were next with about 2GW apiece.

"While China paused for breath, both the US and European markets had exceptionally strong years", said Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC), which produced the statistics. "Asia still led global markets, but with North America a close second, and Europe not far behind".

The UK now ranks sixth in the world for installed wind power, with 8.5GW. In Europe, only Germany (31GW) and Spain (23GW) have more. China leads the world with 77GW installed and the US is second with 60GW. The UK is by far the world leader in offshore wind deployment, installing 0.85MW in 2012 to bring the total so far to 3GW. Denmark has a total of 0.9GW installed; Belgium is ranked third with 0.4GW.

"We are pleased to be part of this success story", said a spokeswoman for the UK department of energy and climate change. "Wind is an important part of our low-carbon energy future. We're also driving the technology forward with innovative 6MW offshore turbines currently being installed in the North Sea".

The GWEC said market consolidation led to the relative slowdown in China, while "a lapse in policy" caused a similar slowdown in India, but expected Asian dominance of global wind markets to continue.

The record year for installation in the US was driven by a rush to beat an anticipated end to tax credits: 8GW of the total 13GW were installed in the last quarter of 2012. However, the tax credit has since been extended, meaning a dramatic slowdown in the US in 2013 is less likely. GWEC said the outlook for 2013 in Europe was uncertain due to the eurozone debt crisis, but that the EU's legal commitments and 2020 targets for renewable energy ensured "a degree of stability".

There is very little wind power installed in Africa, but sub-Saharan Africa's first large commercial wind farm came on line in 2012, a 52MW project in Ethiopia. "This is just the beginning of the African market", said Sawyer. "With construction started on over 0.5GW in South Africa, we expect Africa to be a substantial new market, where clean, competitive energy generated with indigenous sources is a priority for economic development".

Solar power reached 100GW installed capacity in 2012 for the first time, according to data from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA), up from 71GW in 2011 and just 40GW in 2010. The largest market by far is Europe, with Germany (32GW total) and Italy (16GW) the leaders. But while solar panel connections in Europe fell by 5GW in 2012 compared to the previous year, installations rose by 5GW in the rest of the world, notable China, the US, Japan and India.

"Even in tough economic times and despite growing regulatory uncertainty, we have nearly managed to repeat the record year of 2011", said EPIA president Winfried Hoffmann. But the EPIA noted that a continued oversupply of solar panels would most likely make 2013 a "difficult year" for photovoltaic companies.

In January, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that global investment in all renewable energy had fallen by 11% in 2012, due largely to drops in government support in the US, Spain and Italy. Investment continued to rise in Asia.

In November, the International Energy Agency noted that low-carbon energy was growing quickly, driven largely by state subsidies. But the IEA highlighted that fossil fuels received six times more subsidy-$523bn in 2011, up 30% from 2010 than low-carbon energy.