Thursday 4 April 2013

World's two largest solar power towers to be built in California
18 Mar 2013

As joint partners, the two pioneers in solar power tower technology will work together to permit and finance the 500 MW Palen Solar Electric Generating System. Abengoa will build the plants as the Engineering, Procurement and Construction contractor, and will lead the operation and maintenance (O&M) of the plants once online. BrightSource Energy will provide the solar field technology and plant design.Solar power towers generate power the same way as traditional power plants-by creating high temperature steam to turn a turbine. However, instead of using fossil fuels or nuclear power to create the steam, they use the sun's energy. At the heart of the system is a state-of-the-art solar field design, optimization software and a control system that allow for the creation of high temperature steam. The steam is then integrated with conventional power plant turbines to produce predictable, reliable and cost-competitive clean energy.

Double whammy to the anti-wind farm brigade
18 Mar 2013

A study of mine published Thursday night delivers a double whammy to those who argue that wind turbines cause health problems in communities.

Earlier this week researchers at the University of Auckland published an experimental study showing that people primed by watching online information about health problems from wind turbines, reported more symptoms after being exposed to recorded infrasound or to sham (fake) infrasound. The study provided powerful evidence for the nocebo hypothesis: the idea that anxiety and fear about wind turbines being spread about by anti-wind farm groups, will cause some people hearing this scary stuff to get those symptoms.

The double whammy for the scaremongers comes in the form of an historical audit of all complaints made about wind farm noise or health problems on all of Australia's 49 wind farms. Australia's first wind farm, which still operates today, started generating power in 1993 at Esperance in Western Australia. Twenty years on, our 49 wind farms have seen 1471 turbines turning for a cumulative total of 328 years.

In recent years, and particularly since 2009, we've heard a lot about health complaints involving wind turbines, thanks to the efforts of groups such as the Waubra Foundation (none of whose directors live in or near the Victorian town of Waubra) and the interconnected Landscape Guardians. And, just as the nocebo hypothesis would predict, the great bulk of health and noise complaints have arisen since 2009: 82% of complainants made their first complaint after that date.

There are some 32,677 people living within 5km of these 49 wind farms around Australia, and just 120 or one in 272 of them have ever made formal complaints, appeared in news reports or sent complaining submissions to government. Moreover, 81 (68%) of these are people living near just five wind farms, each of which have been heavily targeted by wind farm opponent groups.

Our study tested four hypotheses relevant to the nocebo hypothesis:

  1. Many wind farms of comparable power would have no history of health or noise complaints from nearby residents (suggesting that factors that don't relate to the turbines may explain the presence or absence of complaints)
  2. Wind farms which had been subject to complaints would have only a small number of such complaining residents among those living near the farms (suggesting that individual or social factors may be required to explain different 'susceptibility')
  3. Few wind farms would have any history of complaints consistent with recent claims that turbines cause acute health problems (suggesting that explanations beyond turbines are needed to explain why acute problems are reported)
  4. Most health and noise complaints would date from after the advent of anti-wind farm groups beginning to foment concerns about health (from around 2009) and that wind farms subject to organised opposition would be more likely to have histories of complaint than those not exposed to such opposition (suggesting that health concerns may reflect 'communicated' anxieties).

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Japan Adds 1,178 megawatts of mostly solar energy in nine months
15 Mar 2013

Japan added 1,178 MWs of mostly solar clean-energy capacity in the nine months to the end of December as the country curbs its reliance on nuclear power. Japan added 1,119 MWs of solar to the 4,800 MWs already installed, according to data released by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on March 13. Wind rose 34 MWs and biomass 22 MWs, according to the government figures.

The country began an incentive program for clean energy in July to boost use of renewables after the 2011 Fukushima atomic disaster. The ministry approved applications for above-market rates for clean energy worth 5,236 MWs until the end of December, including 3,857 MWs of non-residential solar. The northern island of Hokkaido accounts for 26% of approved applications by capacity for solar plants 1 MW or larger, the most among Japan's 47 prefectures, the data showed.

Weatherill pushes wind farms ahead of health study
21 Mar 2013

A MAJOR international study into the effects of wind turbines on health has been pre-empted by South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, who wants a rapid increase in the number of large-scale wind farms. The Premier yesterday suspended standing orders in parliament to force a debate on his motion to help foster an increase in the development and construction of wind farms across the state. He claimed there were only economic and environmental benefits to be gained, and no evidence wind farms have a negative impact on property values or health.

"The fact is that there is no evidence that indicates that wind farms have a negative impact on the value of property; in fact, some towns located near wind farms are experiencing booms instead of sales droughts", Mr Weatherill told parliament. "I do not deny for a moment that there are some people who have genuine concerns about wind turbines appearing in their backyard, especially if their neighbour is getting a financial gain from it and they are getting no gain. "I do not deny that there are people concerned about the potential health effects, notwithstanding the absence of scientific evidence to support their concerns".

In a judgment last month, a federal magistrate accepted that wind farms slashed the value of surrounding properties, ruling falls of up to 33% in value were likely and it was "hard to imagine" any prospective buyer ignoring such development. wind farm developers and the renewables industry have insisted land values are not affected by wind farms. Next month, in the face of mounting international evidence and continued industry denials, SA's Environmental Protection Authority will begin a study that will continuously measure the lowest frequency noises from the Waterloo wind farm in the state's mid-north. EnergyAustralia will co-operate by turning its 37 wind turbines on and off so there can be no dispute about background noise.

As reported by The Australian last month, the new testing is considered to be a critical development in a long-running dispute over wind turbines that has split rural communities and frustrated an industry that sees itself as critical to Australia's clean energy future. A literature review on health impacts also is due to be released by the National Health and Medical Research Council for public consultation in the second half of the year. But Mr Weatherill said there were 19 wind farm projects within the state that were committed or listed or publicly announced, and there should be more, despite the mounting complaints and concerns.

"It is clear that wind farm developments increase prosperity while reducing carbon pollution, they boost employment, they boost investment, they encourage innovation and technological development and they will deliver a clean energy legacy", he said.

Liberal opposition energy spokesman Martin Hamilton-Smith accused the Premier of a political stunt and said genuine community concerns should be respected. "This government feels otherwise. They know best; announce and defend, get out there and tell people what is best for them. We do not agree", he said. "There is a visual impact, there are impacts, there are concerns, and they need to be explored".

Last week a study by Simon Chapman, professor of public health at Sydney University, was released that found the supposed "wind turbine sickness" appeared to be caused by the power of suggestion, and was far more prevalent in communities where anti-wind farm lobbyists had been active.

Germany grabs renewable lead as Australia drops back
14 Mar 2013

In 2009, Germany sprinted past the European Union's 12% Renewable Energy Target three years ahead of schedule. Germany's response? Raise the bar.

Europe's biggest economy is now aiming for 35% of energy to be derived from renewable sources by 2020, 50% by 2030, 65% by 2040 and 80% by 2050. Meanwhile, 7,000 km to the east, China-a nation with a less stellar record than Germany on the energy and environmental front-is making similarly aggressive strides towards renewable energy targets.

When China hit its solar-specific goal of 5 GWs of capacity by 2012 also three years ahead of schedule-it lifted the target to 21 GW by 2015. An ambitious quadrupling of the goal, and then some. Since then, the Beijing bureaucrats have started to ponder whether the new target is ambitious enough. The talk, perhaps encouraged by the dire pollution dogging the Chinese capital, suggests the new 2015 goal will be more like 40 GWs.

Surprise surge
And Australia? As power demand continues to decline in eastern states, catching the big private and public utilities off guard, the energy debate is shifting-in the other direction. The 41,000 GW-hour goal for renewable energy by 2020 now looks like being closer to 25% of total generation by 2020 rather than the 20% envisioned by the scheme's designers.

As a result, the Climate Change Authority, the government and the coalition are under immense pressure to pull back. To recap: Germany and China achieve their aims early and respond by lifting their sights. Australia is on course to reach its target and is now considering a cut.

Slow-mover disadvantage
Figures out this week from Pitt and Sherry show the share of coal-fired power to the National Electricity Market Management Company dropped below 75% last month for the first time. That trend, now more than four years long, has prompted incumbent generators to mobilise. Activity, though, is not being focused on grabbing a bigger share of the renewable energy market but rather the marshalling of lobbyists to get a softer RET. The target may be unwelcome for some private-and state-owned generators but is it bad for Australia?

The Climate Change Authority found the cost of the RET policy was negligible-that it was delivering substantial benefit to the economy and that its compliance cost was balanced by the resultant reduction in wholesale electricity prices. Meanwhile, studies continue to show that a transition to 100% renewable energy is technically and economically feasible for Australia-and would be highly popular. Even the government's own energy economics forecaster advised that renewable energy would be the cheapest form of electricity by 2020.

In spite of this, it appears Australia seems content to lag its international competitors. According to the Climate Change Authority, only 10% of Australian energy production in 2010 11 was from renewable energy sources-and half of that came from pre-existing hydroelectric. Of the $5 billion invested in renewable energy deployment in 2011, more than 80% was by households purchasing solar power systems. By contrast, more than $50 billion was spent by both the USA and China in the same year.

All up, entrenched interests are lobbying for a reduction in Australia's Renewable Energy Target, our competitors are increasing their lead, often mastering technology and skills-think solar PV-developed in Australia. The government needs to consider whether ceding further ground-which would no doubt occur if the RET were weakened-is the wise move to make.

US approves 3 major renewable energy projects
14 Mar 2013

The Obama administration on Wednesday approved three large renewable energy projects in the US West, including what will be one of the world's largest solar developments, that combined will produce enough energy to power 340,000 homes. The projects, to be built mostly on federal lands in California and Nevada but funded privately, were announced by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at a press conference in San Francisco.

The approvals were for one wind and two solar projects, including NextEra Energy Resources Inc's 750 MW McCoy Solar Energy Project near the southern California city of Blythe in Riverside County that stands to be one of the largest solar developments in the world.

The other two projects are the 150 MW Desert Harvest Solar Farm proposed by EDF Energy Renewable Energy, also in Riverside County, and the 200 MW Searchlight Wind Energy Project in Nevada, south of Las Vegas. Searchlight, which is being developed by Duke Energy Corp, will use Siemens wind turbines. Both solar projects will use photovoltaic solar panels.

Wednesday's action brings the total number of renewable energy projects approved by the administration to 37 including 20 solar facilities, eight wind farms and nine geothermal plants with associated transmission corridors and infrastructure to connect to established power grids.

"That's a lot of power, and these projects now are becoming the examples to the rest of the world on what can be done with renewable energy", Mr Salazar said during the signing ceremony in San Francisco.

The two California projects are located in one of the nation's 17 solar power zones-areas the administration has identified as well suited for solar power projects due to high levels of sunlight, proximity to transmission lines, and limited impact on wildlife in the area. "They are the blueprint, the bible if you will, of where solar power will go on public lands in the years ahead", Mr Salazar said.

The renewable energy zones encompass 285,000 acres of public lands across six western states. California Governor Jerry Brown said the new projects will advance the state's position as a leader in the fight against climate change. "We have a lot of challenges in this country, a lot of them, but climate change is on the way and we've got to do something about it", Mr Brown said.

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.

Siemens' 6 MW offshore wind turbine receives certification
5 Mar 2013

GL Renewables Certification (GL RC) has awarded Siemens Wind Power offshore prototype certification for the testing of its new 6 MW offshore wind turbine at DONG Energy's Gunfleet Sands III demonstration project, located in the UK

This will be the first offshore test of this new wind turbine. The prototype certificate confirms the wind turbine design's compliance with the requirements of the GL guideline for offshore wind turbines, edition 2005.

Siemens developed the SWT-6.0 turbine specifically for the demanding conditions in offshore locations. The first unit, which features a 120 meter rotor, was installed in 2011 at the Hovsore test site in Denmark. The turbine has now operated for well over a year, setting new production records during testing, Siemens notes.

The second 6 MW prototype, which has a 154 meter rotor, was installed in 2012 at the new national test center at Osterild, Denmark. In January, Siemens installed two additional SWT-6.0 prototypes at DONG Energy's demonstration project Gunfleet Sands III. Both machines for this project are equipped with the 120 meter rotor.

GL RC has also been contracted to carry out the type certification of the offshore turbine and is currently involved in the design evaluation process. Type certification is required in many countries around the world and is often a condition necessary to apply for international wind power plant tenders.

Wind farms beneficial: Clean Energy Council
3 Apr 2013

According to recent research conducted by the Clean Energy Council, wind farming has reportedly generated more than $4 billion in investment in Australia since its introduction. Much of this investment has been in rural and regional towns.

A report commissioned by the Council by Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM) found that a typical 50 MW wind farm pays host farmers $250,000 per year, is constructed by workers who spend up to $1.2 million locally, and contributes up to $80,000 annually to community projects.

It also shows that each wind farm creates up to 48 direct jobs during construction, and then employs about five staff on an ongoing basis. The council says that in some areas, like Bungendore near Canberra, wind farms have caused the local population to increase. The population there increased by 24% after the Capital wind farm project was established, but many farmers are still not convinced about the benefits.

Rodd Pahl, a farmer from the nearby town of Collector, says the wind towers create too much noise, impact on health and reduce the value of rural land. "Bungendore has grown not because of the wind farm. It's grown because you've got big defence facilities and because it's a great place to live".

The Clean Energy Council says an opinion poll conducted last year found that 77% of Australians support wind farm developments. The poll, conducted by independent research company QDOS, surveyed 1,200 people, including many from areas where wind farms were sited.