Wednesday 26 June 2013

Solar Power: Australian scientists successfully print solar panels
21 May 2013

3D printing is all the rage at the moment, from the debate over 3D printed guns to plans to print pizza with a 3D food printer. Scientists in Australia, however, have shown that regular printing can still do amazing things too. Researchers at Australia's Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium (VICOSC)--a collaboration between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the University of Melbourne, Monash University and industry partners--have successfully printed an A3 sheet of photovoltaic cells.

The sheets are the largest flexible, plastic solar cells that have been printed in Australia, having gone from printing cells the size of a finger nail just a few years ago. Research Dr David Jones eventually sees the cells, which produce 10 50 watts of power per m², "being laminated to windows that line skyscrapers [and] we'll also be able to embed cells onto roofing materials". Given the cost of the printer alone, $200,000, and its size (see below), this is not exactly the kind of thing that just anyone can start doing.

Cattle breeder to tell of wind turbine success
13 Jun 2016

A FARMER has had a windfall after building a turbine on his land that creates his own electrictity and sees any surplus going on to power peoples' homes. Farmer and cattle breeder James Weightman not only sells his home grown Blonde D'Aquitaine Bulls all over the UK, but he's now selling his home grown electricity. He has installed a 500kW urban fringe wind turbine to power the entire farm and he sells the remaining electricity back to the National Grid.

The project has been such a success that the Weightman family, along with gfw-Renewables, turbine suppliers EWT, and funders Barclays Bank, are holding an Open Day at Hallfield Farm, Easington, on Thursday, May 16, from 10am-4pm.

It has been organised so other landowners and farmers can see what is involved in wind turbine projects, how turbines operate, what the benefits are, and what pitfalls to look out for. Since its installation, the turbine at Hallfield Farm has greatly exceeded expectations and continues to feed sustainable 'green' energy back into the local grid connection. James said: "After nearly 18 months of preparation work, it was great to see our turbine finally commissioned.

"It has now been operational since October 2012 and is already a fantastic asset to the farm, offsetting our carbon footprint and reducing the impact of rising energy costs on our business". Renewable energy continues to be at the forefront of the Government's carbon reduction agenda, with the UK committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20% by 2020.

Gaelectric inaugurates £20m Carn Hill wind farm in Ireland
10 May 2013

Irish renewable energy company Gaelectric has inaugurated its £20m Carn Hill wind farm at Newtownabbey, county Antrim in Northern Ireland. The 13.8MW wind farm featuring six wind turbines is estimated to generate enough renewable power to cater to the energy requirement of nearly 8,000 homes per annum.

Gaelectric group finance director Barry Gavin said the opening of this wind farm marks the company's transformation from a pre-revenue renewable energy development group to an energy development and operating group. "The Carn Hill wind farm development is the first of a number of renewable energy projects that Gaelectric is progressing in Northern Ireland", added Gavin.

Commenting on the occasion, Environment Minister Alex Attwood said: "Renewable energy is arguably our biggest economic opportunity. Wind farms are part of the story. Today's event is positive proof of what can be achieved.

"We will need to scale up our ambition. We can do that while respecting the needs of residents, landowners and our wonderful heritage", elaborated Attwood. Gaelectric, meanwhile, has eight wind farm projects at different stages of development in Northern Ireland and 13 projects on the island of Ireland.

GE sees U.S. wind-turbine installs doubling next year after lull
8 May 2013

General Electric Co. (GE), the biggest U.S, supplier of wind turbines, expects domestic installations to double next year after the renewal of a tax credit boosts demand.

wind farm developers including NextEra Energy Resources Inc. (NEE) and Invenergy Wind LLC may install 3,000 MWs to 4,000 MWs of turbines in the U.S, this year and as much as 7,000 MWs next year, Anne McEntee, GE's vice president of renewable energy, said today in an interview.

The U.S, added a record 13,124 MWs of turbines last year, outpacing natural gas installations for the first time, as wind developers raced to complete projects ahead of the Dec. 31 expiration of the production tax credit. Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems A/S (VWS) and Spain's Gamesa Corp Tecnologica SA (GAM) also expect new orders to pick up by the third quarter.

"The U.S, market is beginning to turn around", McEntee said at the Wind Power 2013 conference in Chicago. "Utilities see wind power as a hedge against rising fuel costs". The production tax credit for energy generated by renewable sources expired at the end of 2012 and was renewed for a year on Jan. 1.

GE has received orders this year for more than 1,000 MWs of wind turbines, including one from NextEra Energy Resources for 100.3 MWs announced today for a Michigan wind farm and Invenergy Wind's 215 MW deal announced last week for a project in Texas. Germany's Nordex SE (NDX1), which hasn't announced any sales in the U.S, this year, said the last-minute nature of the tax-credit extension stymied developers that might have placed orders by now.

Slow Utilities
"Utilities have acted slower than I predicted", Ralph Sigrist, chief executive officer of Nordex USA, said today on a panel at the conference. "They're taking their time".

Developers have more flexibility this year because they only need to begin construction by Dec. 31 to be eligible for the tax credits, said Borja Negro, chief executive officer of Gamesa Corp's U.S, unit. The previous version of the credit applied to projects that went into service before the deadline. It pays owners 2.3¢ per kW-hour.

"With the start-construction language we could see a U.S, market of up to eight GWs" of sales contracts signed this year, Negro said. "It could be more but unfortunately we're facing a lot of ups and downs".

Samsung tests giant turbine off Scotland
8 May 2013

Scotland approved construction of a 7 MW wind turbine by Samsung Heavy Industries, allowing the South Korean manufacturer to test different offshore models at a site north of Edinburgh.

Samsung Heavy will get 6 million pounds ($9.2 million) in funds for the project at Fife Energy Park in Methil, Scotland's government said today in a statement to coincide with a visit by Finance Secretary John Swinney to the Seoul-based company. "Today's announcement marks a significant step forward in establishing a globally competitive supply chain for the offshore wind industry", Swinney said in the statement.

Scotland has a target to install 10,000 MWs of offshore wind power to cut emissions from electricity output by more than four-fifths to 50 grams of CO₂ a kW-hour in 2030. It's aiming to meet all its power needs from renewables by 2020, and export any surplus to England.

Incentives to expand clean-energy in the UK, the world's largest offshore wind market, have attracted companies including Spain's Gamesa Corp. Tecnologica SA and Paris-based Areva SA to Scotland. The British government has pledged to triple renewable-energy subsidies to 7.6 billion pounds by 2020.

The permit granted today allows Samsung Heavy to construct a single three-bladed turbine as high as 196 meters tall, as well as offshore cabling and a bridge to the turbine tower, according to the statement. The company can have one turbine at the site at any one time, and operate the machine for as many as five years.

Funding to fast-track wind farm
7 May 2013

A WIND farm in the Central Highlands will be fast-tracked after a new global energy private firm invested $US75 million ($A73.2m) to finalise it and a number of other wind projects around Australia. The $500 million Cattle Hill wind farm, which will be the biggest on mainland Tasmania, received Environment Protection Authority approval in 2011. The 100 turbine development is expected to produce up to 240 MWs of electricity--enough to power more than 80,000 homes.

By comparison, the wind farm at Woolnorth in Circular Head Council has 62 turbines generating 140MW. National Power started work on the Cattle Hill project, near Lake Echo, in 2010. Denham Capital has joined forces with existing project sponsors, Enersis Australia, National Power and Kato Capital, under the name OneWind Australia.

The firm says the investment will accelerate the development of the projects and it aims to achieve financial closure in 2014. OneWind Australia will also fund projects at Glen Innes in NSW and Lincoln Gap in South Australia.

Wind farm syndrome dismissed
7 May 2013

The inaudible sound caused by wind farms is no worse than that from other rural and urban environments and does not affect human health, a review by the Victorian Department of Health has found. Some groups claim the inaudible noise from wind turbines, known as infrasound, can trigger health problems including dizziness, headaches, and insomnia. Together, the syndromes are sometimes described as ''wind turbine syndrome''.

The Health Department review, released late last week, assessed the evidence and found it does not ''support claims that inaudible sounds can have direct physiological effects. Physiological effects on humans have only been detected at levels that are easily audible.''

The report says infrasound is generated by many sources, such as trains, breaking waves and air conditioners. The department found the evidence showed wind farms produced no more infrasound than the background level in other environments. ''Humans have been exposed to high levels of infrasound throughout our evolution, with no apparent effects,'' the report says.

The department found wind farms did produce audible noise through the swish of a rotating turbine blade.But the report says the typical sound pressure for most nearby residents-living up to a km from a turbine-are lower than many other everyday environmental noises.

It says audible noise, including that from wind farms, can cause annoyance resulting in prolonged stress and other health effects. The report says whether health effects are felt from low-level audible noise can depend on an individual's noise sensitivity and attitude to the source. Victoria has some of the world's toughest laws on wind farms, allowing any household to veto a new turbine within two km of their home.

Breakthrough in solar efficiency by UNSW team ahead of its time
6 May 2013

Australian scientists have found a way of hugely increasing the efficiency of solar panels while substantially reducing their cost. The University of New South Wales researchers have come up with improvements in photovoltaic panel design that had not been expected for another decade. This has really got the industry very excited.

The breakthrough involves using hydrogen atoms to counter defects in silicon cells used in solar panels. As a consequence, poor quality silicon can be made to perform like high quality wafers. The process makes cheap silicon "actually better than the best-quality material people are using at the moment", the head of the university's photovoltaics centre of excellence, Professor Stuart Wenham, said.

Silicon wafers account for more than half the cost of making a solar cell. "By using lower-quality silicon, you can drastically reduce that cost", he said. "We've been able to figure out what the secret is that enables hydrogen to sometimes work the way people want it to, and sometimes doesn't". At present, the best commercial solar cells convert between 17% and 19% of the sun's energy into electricity. UNSW's technique, patented this year, should produce efficiencies of between 21% and 23%.

"This has really got the industry very excited, not only in China, but elsewhere as well", said Richard Corkish, head of the university's School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering. Alumni of the school hold senior positions at many of the leading PV producers globally.

Separately, the UNSW's Martin Green, dubbed the "father of photovoltaics" for his work to develop and commercialise silicon solar cell technologies, was last week elected into the UK's renowed Royal Society. Professor Green, whose work includes overseeing research teams and setting the current 25% conversion efficiency record for solar PV, joins 1,450 of the world's top scientists as a Royal Society Fellow.

Prices tumble
The price of solar panels has fallen by about 65% in two years, partly due to a huge rise in production in China. Australians have been taking advantage of lower prices, with the number of homes with solar panels exceeding 1 million.

The phenomenal growth has caused some casualties in the industry as companies have taken on massive debt to expand supply, then struggled with falling prices in saturated markets. Notable among them is the recent debt default by Suntech Power, once the world's largest solar panel maker, founded by former University of New South Wales researcher Shi Zhengrong.

Panel prices are predicted to fall much further. European producers predict they will be 60% cheaper by 2020. "Based on the technological advances we're making, we think that's certainly achievable", Dr Wenham said.

Eight commercial firms have signed up to be a partner in developing the technology to an industrial scale, including Suntech Power, which continues to operate from its base in the eastern Chinese city of Wuxi and has a research unit in Sydney. "It's the kind of advance that other people are anticipating is a decade away,'' Suntech Power R&D Australia managing director Renate Egan said. "It is quite a breakthrough".

Suntech Power funded much of the early work, including in China. "Suntech Power has the right to use that (intellectual property) and UNSW has the right to licence the technology to third parties", Dr Egan said. Funding to help commercialise the technology will total about $15 million over three years, with the UNSW seeking support from the federal government's Australian Renewable Energy Agency for part of that sum.

The annual funding of $5 million-equivalent to what bidders last month paid for the half-brother of champion race mare Black Caviar-is "a lot of money for us", Dr Corkish said. Already worth about $100 billion a year, the solar industry is expected to swell to about $140 billion by 2018, according to estimates published in April by Transparency Market Research.

Installed PV capacity probably surpassed 100 GWs, worldwide, in the March quarter, according to the International Energy Agency. Some forecasts project capacity will more than triple by the end of the decade. Australia ranked ninth, with installed capacity of 2.4 GW, at the end of 2012.

EU will proceed with duties on Chinese solar panels
6 May 2013

The EU's trade chief will recommend placing punitive import duties on billions of euros of solar panels from China, people close to the matter say, putting up a barrier to protect European producers but risking upsetting Beijing. The case, the biggest the Commission has ever targeted, highlights the balancing act facing Brussels as Europe tries to protect against cheap imports while needing China, the EU's second largest trading partner, to help it emerge from recession.

Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht is expected to tell his fellow EU commissioners on Wednesday that Brussels should levy the tariffs to guard against Chinese production that quadrupled between 2009 and 2011 to more than the entire global demand. "De Gucht is ready to go ahead", said one person close to the decision-making. "The Commission has a very solid case".

Following Wednesday's meeting in Brussels, De Gucht will then propose the measures at a meeting of trade specialists from all EU countries, who are expected to back them, diplomats say, allowing the provisional levies to come into force by June 6. However, the decision to levy duties would still leave the door open for a negotiated solution with Beijing before December and avoid levies that could be imposed for up to five years.

The United States levied its own duties on Chinese solar power products last year, arguing that China's rapid expansion into the industry has created a massive oversupply. Germany, the United States and China are the world's biggest solar markets and companies are in a race to win contracts as countries seek to limit pollution and global warming.

The initial EU duties on Chinese solar panels are likely to be set at 30% and above, which would make Chinese exports far less attractive in Europe, said one person involved. The European Commission declined to comment. China, which had barely any solar production capacity a decade ago, exported more than 21 billion euros ($27.45 billion) in panels to the European Union in 2011.

European solar panel manufacturers, led by Germany's Solar World, accuse Chinese counterparts of dumping panels and related components on the EU market and seeking to put European peers out of business to corner the market.

German support
SolarWorld, once Germany's biggest solar group, partly blames Chinese overcapacity for its problems, including €900 million ($A1.15 billion) in liabilities, while its smaller rival Q-Cells filed for insolvency last year. "Germany has thrown all its weight behind this case", said another person close to the case. "Germany does not usually do so in trade defence measures, but this is an important industry under attack".

Germany is Europe's largest exporter to China, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has made numerous trips to Beijing, last year striking a conciliatory tone by saying Europe has no interest in starting a trade war over solar panels.

French President Francois Hollande also flew to Beijing last month for a visit to try to increase France's exports. Europe's stance on solar power is complicated by the fact that some in the EU solar sector, notably importers and installers, support cheap panel imports from China They say EU tariffs would be damaging for efforts to develop clean energy, and who fear retaliation by Beijing.

In April, trade groups representing users of solar panels in six EU member states sent an open letter to De Gucht urging him not to seek duties, saying the prospect of duties on Chinese solar panels had already resulted in cancelled orders.

But EU producers from a range of sectors want protection against Chinese imports, and the European Commission, which handles trade issues for the EU's 27 members is investigating 30 dumping and subsidy cases, 19 of them involving China.

Meridian alters buyback rates for solar customers
5 Apr 2013

Meridian Energy says it will start promoting solar power generation now that it has changed its buyback rates. The company has ended its one-for-one pricing for its solar customers with grid-connected systems, which had allowed them to buy and sell the energy at the same rate. Meridian Energy said it was making a substantial loss from doing so, and this month moved to a two-stage pricing system. Its buyback energy rate for customers is now 25¢ a unit-a kW hour-for the first five units exported each day, and 10¢ a unit after that.

"We are committed to supporting solar, and now that we are no longer making a substantial loss from doing so, we will be able to start promoting it", said Bill Highet, the company's general manager retail. An increasing number of consumers are investing in grid-connected photovoltaic (PV) solar panel systems as the cost has reduced and the price of power had increased. The Nelson City Council is planning to hold a workshop of interested parties to discuss whether they could collaborate on solar initiatives.

Meridian Energy had about 750 solar customers, and that number was increasing by about two customers per day, Mr Highet said. "We understand that our pricing for those customers remains the most attractive available". He said Meridian Energy's analysis showed that most customers with on-site renewable generation would not see a significant difference in their power bills with the staged pricing, because their real savings were made by reducing the amount of electricity they bought from the company.

However, if they had installed major solar systems, the economics of their installation would be affected, as the 10¢ rate to buy back units in excess of five a day was more reflective of the wholesale rate that Meridian Energy paid when the sun was shining. "On cold days when the sun is not shining, the wholesale rate is much higher than 10¢ and regularly much higher than 25¢ but, unfortunately, solar panels are not much help to the customers or us at those times".

The change came into effect on April 8. Mr Highet said it had been explained to existing and prospective solar customers who had contacted Meridian Energy. "But regrettably, we do not know all of the contractors and solar suppliers who may have led customers to believe that our old one-for-one pricing would continue". TrustPower rubbished suggestions that energy retailers should be required to pay one-for-one rates.

Its community relations manager, Graeme Purches, said local network and transmission charges came in two parts-a fixed component, which formed part of the daily charge on a bill, and a variable component, which formed part of the unit charge. In some regions there are also capacity and congestion charges.

"So if a retailer was to pay back home generators the same unit price as they charged for power, they would effectively be paying the local network company for the variable line charge and paying the same charge to the consumer as well.

"While some may argue that because they have solar, they don't use the lines as much and therefore should pay less, that is reflected in the lower number of units they consume due to their solar offsetting some of their consumption, and if they are exporting, they still need to use the lines to get the power out anyway-so little has changed", Mr Purches said. This was why Meridian Energy had reduced its buyback, and TrustPower believed that its current rate was too high, he said.

TrustPower, which pays an average 7¢ a unit, has fewer than 10 solar PV customers. Mr Purches said the company was not in the business of subsidising home generators, and it could buy power cheaper off the ASX or on the spot market than it could paying the prices some competitors had been paying to solar PV customers. If there were to be subsidies, they needed to come from government sources, he said.

Such schemes had fallen over, as in South Australia, where the projected benefits of government subsidies for solar were not being realised, Mr Purches said. However, TrustPower had a massive test system operating now to develop technology to get a better capacity factor from solar PV, he said. This would ensure that the company was in the best position to take advantage of the technology when eventually it became financially viable without subsidies.

"When it is viable, there is a real advantage for consumers and the payback period is reasonable, we expect to be a major player in the market". Contact Energy has for the past five years kept the same 17.28¢ a unit rate for excess energy generated. It said that while it was interested in monitoring developments in the solar area, it was not a key area of focus. "We have seen a small rise in the number of residential and SME solar customers over the past year, but our solar customer base remains modest".