Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Coal-fired spark to emissions growth

Canberra Times
Wednesday 25/6/2008 Page: 5

Australia's continuing demand for coal-fired electricity has driven a 3 per cent growth in greenhouse emissions over the past 12 months, according to new Federal Government figures. The 2006 National Greenhouse Gas Inventory reveals preliminary estimates for the 2007-08 financial year show Australia's energy appetite generated 382 million tonnes of carbon dioxide - up from 378 million tonnes the previous year.

Greenhouse pollution from Australia's electricity, manufacturing and construction industries has almost doubled since 1990, increasing by more than 47 per cent. In 2006, energy sector emissions were 1.5 per cent higher than the previous year and 40 per cent higher than in 1990. Energy use by mining, manufacturing and construction increased by 30 per cent over the same period.

The Department of Climate Change report said,"An increase in coal related emissions accounted for 70.4 per cent of the overall increase in emissions, with gas accounting for 21 per cent and oil 9.5 per cent." Road transport accounted for 12 per cent of Australia's emissions, increasing by almost 27 per cent since 1990. Cars were the largest source of emissions, with a 21 per cent increase, while emissions from domestic air transport grew by 107 per cent. Federal Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said although data in the 2006 inventory showed Australia was on track to meet its Kyoto emission reduction targets, there was still a lot of work to do.

"Our emissions results identify some challenges," Senator Wong said. "For example, strong growth in energy use in 2007 saw energy-use related emissions increase by 12 million tonnes to 378 million tonnes. "These results highlight how we need to change the way the economy works, to move it from a high emissions economy of the past to the low emissions economy of the future.

"The economically responsible way to do this is with an Emissions Trading Scheme." Greens climate change spokeswoman Christine Milne said the report showed rising emissions from coal were "still at the heart of the problem." "Unless and until we start seriously addressing coal emissions with energy efficiency and renewable energy, we will not turn around Australia's growing emissions - 70 per cent of the overall increase in emission since 1990 is due to coal," Senator Milne said. "Coal is at the heart of our skyrocketing emissions problem, and replacing coal is at the heart of the zero emissions solution."

Wind farm blows in

Southern Times Messenger
Wednesday 25/6/2008 Page: 11

THE first signs of the controversial $60 million Myponga Wind Farm project should appear next month after more than seven years of delays. Screen tree plantings on the site, located between Sellicks Hill and Myponga, are scheduled to start in late July in preparation for major works on the Trust Power project next year. New Zealand-based Trust Power's development manager Rodney Ahern said the plantation of two to three rows of trees would follow a fence line on Reservoir Rd.

He said no other development works would be noticeable until 2009. "There might be people down there doing detailed design work and the like, but you won't see any physical work on the ground," he said. The project's 20 turbines will generate 35MW of electricity - enough to power 17,000 homes annually. Originally the design was for 40-80 turbines on Sellicks Hill but this was scaled back amid community protests about the visual impact.

Trust Power is finalising the contractual paperwork, Mr Ahern said, and discussions were continuing with Planning SA on extending the planning approval deadline. "We have a view to conclude all the arrangements in a matter of weeks, ready for construction in the second quarter of 2009." Each turbine unit will consist of a 67m tower and three 33m blades, dotted on the hills behind Mount Terrible to Heatherdale Hill. It will be the south's second dollar wind farm, the other being the Starfish Hill project near Rapid Bay. Trust Power also expects to have its $200 million Snowtown Wind Farm fully operational by September.

Energy use

Sydney Morning Herald
Wednesday 25/6/2008 Page: 12

Germany led the world in reducing energy consumption last year, the fuel company BP says. The BP Statistical Review Of World Energy found Germans used 5.6 per cent less oil, gas and coal in 2007 than in 2006. Most European countries recorded a fall. Australia had a small reduction (1.6 per cent), but the US increased use by 1.7 per cent. China (up by 7.7 per cent) and India (6.8 percent) had the highest increases in the Asia-Pacific area.

The report found that renewable energy (wind, solar and geothermal) accounts for just 1.5 per cent of global electricity but is on the increase. Wind power accounts for 20 per cent of electricity in Denmark, 10 per cent in Spain and 7 per cent in Germany; and geothermal power accounts for about a quarter of electricity in El Salvador and a fifth in the Philippines, Kenya and Iceland.

Taralga Windfarm to connect with grid at Marulan

Crookwell Gazette
Tuesday 24/6/2008 Page: 3

THE Taralga Wind Farm, now under construction, will link up to Country Energy transmission by a 32 kilometre long line to connect at the Transgrid substation at Maiulan. Details on the connecting link were provided at last week's meeting of the Upper Lachlan Shire Council by consultants for the windfarm developers, RES Southern Cross Southern Cross. The proposed line will be located on private land where grazing and cropping are the predominant usage.

It will pass through sixteen properties and cross the Tarlo River, Junction Creek, Sandy Creek, Island Creek and the Wollondilly River. It will also cross Swallowtail Pass and Loseby Roads. Because of this, consent will be required from the Upper Lachlan Council. Last week's meeting decided to accept the report, and to request that Southern Cross undertake appropriate road improvements and rectify any damage to the roads resulting from their development.

Carbon offsets are helping to reduce poverty – report
London, 26 June:

Finance from carbon offsets has an important role in helping improve the lives of poor people, according to a UK government report on the winners of the annual Ashden Awards for sustainable energy. "Well-designed carbon finance is an opportunity to improve energy access," the report says, noting that seven of the 10 winning projects were already using carbon finance or negotiating deals.

Around 1.6 billion people still rely of fuelwood and open fires for cooking, and 2 billion have no access to electricity, according to the report, and having access to energy "plays a crucial role in improving the lives of poor people." Four winners tap the voluntary carbon market, while three use, or are seeking to use, the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism to finance their projects. The activities include distributing wood-burning stoves to replace open fires, installing biodigester systems to provide gas for cooking and providing stand-alone solar electricity systems for homes.

This high take-up suggests that carbon finance could have a significant impact on access to low-carbon energy, concludes the report, commissioned by the UK's Department for International Development and written by the International Institute for Environment and Development. But the report notes: "There is sometimes a trade-off between reducing carbon emissions and reaching the poorest households. Carbon finance might therefore encourage SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] to target middle-income households where larger carbon benefits can be quickly achieved, rather than to prioritise the poor.

"It is encouraging that the socially-focused SMEs in this survey have taken a different approach, and are seeing the new carbon revenue stream as an opportunity to reduce end-user costs and thus bring energy services to poorer households." The report says the findings "highlight the need for further research into how carbon finance can best be designed to benefit the poor." The Ashden Awards were founded in 2001 by the Ashden Trust, one of the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, to recognise sustainable energy solutions in the UK and developing world.

UK to pursue £100 billion renewables plan
London, 26 June:

The UK today proposed a £100 billion ($200 billion) blueprint for meeting its EU target of sourcing 15% of energy from renewables by 2020.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the proposals "a green revolution in the making." He said: "It will be a tenfold increase on our current deployment of renewables, and a 300% increase on our existing plans: the most dramatic change in our energy policy since the advent of nuclear energy." According to Business Secretary John Hutton, the UK's existing policies are set to increase renewable energy use from 1.5% of the total in 2006 (including heat, electricity and transport), to 5% in 2020 – leaving a large gap to the 15% target.

To fill the gap, the latest proposals – open for comment until 26 September – would see renewables make up more than 30% of electricity generation, 14% of heat and 10% of transport fuels.

The package of measures includes ramping up the UK's Renewables Obligation – a trading scheme which requires power suppliers to source an annually-increasing amount of power from renewables or pay a 'buy-out' – increasing its target from 20% to 30-35% by 2020, and extended it out to 2040. A financial incentive scheme is also planned to encourage renewable heat, potentially through a feed-in tariff, which would be a move away from the market-based mechanisms employed to encourage renewable electricity in the UK.

The package also includes measures to ensure the sustainability of biofuels, proposals to encourage energy generation from waste, efforts to speed up grid connections for renewables (according to the Department of Business, around 10GW of capacity in development is queued up for grid connection), and efforts to smooth the planning process.

Predicting the package could create 160,000 jobs and could cut the UK's carbon dioxide emissions by 20 million tonnes in 2020, Hutton said: "We will also maximise the economic benefit for the UK by creating a new generation of green collar jobs and making the most of our strengths as one of the world's largest manufacturing economies; a world class centre of energy expertise and a leading location for inward investment."

The EU target is still provisional, and the specifics of the directive have yet to be agreed. One issue that has proved controversial is the degree to which member states will be able to trade between each other to meet their targets. The consultation document says: "We estimate that trading one percentage point of the target could save 15-20% of the costs of meeting the target domestically, with a correspondingly lower impact on energy prices." So far the proposals have received a mixed reaction.

Friends of the Earth's energy campaigner, Robin Webster, said: "We really hope this consultation signals the start of a green energy revolution in the UK and an end to the piecemeal, negative approach taken so far. We can meet our European targets and build a renewables industry that will bring millions of pounds, thousands of jobs and a clean and secure energy supply to the UK." Ben Warren, a director in the renewables, waste and clean energy group at Ernst & Young, said: "While the government should be applauded for taking a more holistic view on all forms of renewable energy, another period of policy review and consultation cannot be so warmly welcomed.

The time for talking is surely over – as we get ever nearer to 2020, some tough decisions need to be made." David Green, chief executive of the UK Business Council for Sustainable Energy, called the proposals "highly significant." He added: "Maintaining investor confidence will be vital. We particularly welcome the government's commitment strengthening the existing Renewables Obligation to drive investment in large-scale renewables."

However, John Cridland, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, the UK employers' body, said: "Some of the proposals do make good sense, such as the focus on energy efficiency, but we are concerned over whether the very high level of renewables the document envisages, particularly for electricity, is feasible and cost effective."

Wind farm foes dealt legal blow
June 22, 2008 6:00 AM

The presiding judge in a lawsuit against the state of Massachusetts and the company that wants to build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound dismissed the bulk of the suit this week. Barnstable Superior Court Judge Robert Kane ruled in favor of Cape Wind Associates on most of the company's requests to dismiss five complaints in the case, which challenged the adequacy and jurisdiction of the state's review of the project under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act.

Last year, the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs approved the project in an environmental impact statement required under state environmental law. That approval set the stage for other state agencies to issue permits for Cape Wind. In August, the town of Barnstable, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound and a group of individuals sued Ian Bowles, the state secretary of energy and environmental affairs, and Cape Wind. The lawsuit claimed the state's review of the proposed wind farm did not adequately address the impacts of the project, including those on endangered species.

In a 37-page ruling released Friday, Kane allowed motions by the state and Cape Wind requesting dismissal of large parts of four of the lawsuit's five complaints, including the claim that Bowles' review of the project was "arbitrary and capricious." Kane denied a motion to dismiss the fifth complaint, which alleges Cape Wind would violate the state's endangered species law. The judge ruled that because there is an administrative appeal under way, the Department of Fish and Wildlife letter that prompted the claim could not be considered a permit and therefore could not be challenged in court by the plaintiffs at this point.

"It appears to leave the town's claim intact in terms of challenging the (Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act) action," Charlie McLaughlin, an attorney for the town of Barnstable, said yesterday. "It seems that those issues are dangling out there." He said the case could still go to trial or the judge could move the matter to the state's Supreme Judicial Court. A Cape Wind spokesman did not return a phone call seeking comment yesterday. A spokeswoman for the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound also did not return a phone call yesterday.

The lawsuit against the state and Cape Wind is not the only legal protest to the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm. There is also a lawsuit challenging the ruling by the state Energy Facilities Siting Board, which overruled a denial of Cape Wind by the Cape Cod Commission. An appeal of that decision is ongoing.

The U.S. Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service — the lead federal agency in the project's review — released a largely favorable draft environmental impact statement on the project in January. A final version of the federal report is due by the end of the year, and a new flurry of legal action is expected to follow its release.

Cape Wind Plans call for 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound
  • Project first proposed in 2001.
  • Opponents claim the turbines would harm the environment, including impacts on birds, fisheries and scenic views from land.
  • Proponents say the wind farm would provide the region needed energy with limited impact on the Sound.

Germany earmarks EUA revenue for emissions projects
25 June, 2008

The German government will this year invest €400 million ($623.2 million) from sales of EU allowances (EUAs) in a programme aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and protecting the climate, said Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's environment minister, last week. Small businesses, private households, cities, counties and local amenities will be able to apply for a share of the €400 million to fund small-scale emission reduction projects, said the government. The fund will be split with €280 million set aside for national projects and €120 million for international projects.

The government said it wanted to support projects in developing countries that will help provide a sustainable energy supply and those working to protect biodiversity at risk from climate change. A spokesman said "it's too soon to give details" about whether these projects will generate carbon credits. Domestic projects wanting a share of the €280 million will have to put forward a plan of action and nominate a "climate protection manager" to oversee the programme, which can last a maximum of three years.

The government said projects such as the replacement of lighting in a public building with energy efficient technology will be supported. It will also look favourably on biomass projects and the installation of small combined heat and power systems. "The climate protection initiative provides an important contribution in reaching our climate target," said Gabriel. Germany wants to reduce GHG emissions by 40% by 2020 compared to 1990.

"It will give us the potential to reduce CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions across the board, in schools, businesses and private households," he added. "We want to show that protecting the climate makes financial sense... Whoever invests today will be rewarded with lower energy costs in the future." Germany expects that part of the revenue from EUA auctions will be put to similar use in future years. The government is auctioning 40 million EUAs each year over 2008-12.

Cost of wind power turbines is skyrocketing
Canada on 05.21.08

Increase of 74% for Land-Based, and 48% for Offshore Wind Turbines

For years we've heard about how a shortage of silicon kept solar panel prices higher than they would otherwise be. Just as we're expecting supply to improve in that field, we learn that wind turbines are getting more expensive. Not just a little, but a lot: "The price of offshore turbines rose 48 percent to 2.23 million euros ($3.45 million) per megawatt in the past three years, according to BTM Consult APS, a Danish wind power consultant. By comparison, land-based rotors cost 1.38 million euros per megawatt after rising 74 percent in the same period."

Wind industry not immune to supply and demand this has a good and bad side.

The bad one is obvious, but it's worth explaining the good. Part of the cost increase comes from higher commodity prices, and that's bad both for wind turbine makers and for wind turbine buyers (it's only good to mining companies), but part of it also has to do with extremely high demand. As we reported recently, GE can't make wind turbines fast enough and there's certainly no recession going on for the wind power industry.

Read more....

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Solar So Low: Buyer power can slash the household energy bills

Sunraysia Daily
Tuesday 24/6/2008 Page: 1

AS solar energy company Solar Systems prepares to select a site for the world's largest solar power station in north-western Victoria, the cost of domestic solar power has dropped dramatically in Sunraysia in the past year. Photovoltaic arrays and solar hot water services are now within the budget of an average household - even without the $8000 Federal Government rebate and the Victorian Government's maximum $3000 rebate on solar hot water services.

Renewable energy expert Paul Geering, a founder of Sunraysia's first solar-energy buyers' group, says local householders can install a 1-kilowatt solar-electric array for only $895 - less than a tenth of the cost in September last year. And they can slash the biggest item on their power bills by retrofitting a new solar heating unit to their existing electrical hot water services for only $1725.

The price drop opens the way for a wholesale switch to solar energy in Sunraysia that, with the construction of Solar Systems' $425 million solar power station, could go a long way to making the district independent of high-cost, high emissions electrical power from the Latrobe Valley's brown-coal power stations which are some of the most polluting in the world.

David Holland, managing director of Melbourne-based Solar Systems, says his company is still negotiating for cheap, suitable land on which to build its $425 million, government-subsidised solar power station. But the company remained on track to begin construction next year and now has 40 staff working at its prototype facility in Bridgewater, near Bendigo, optimising the technology before the project begins. Mr Holland said it was increasingly likely the company would now develop the power station at just one or, at most, two sites in northwest Victoria. Earlier this year it was considering the possibility of splitting the installation between two or even three sites.

"Whether we build it near Mildura, Swan Hill or Kerang, there will be enough demand to take all we can produce," he said. "We're still exploring the technical aspects of connecting it to the state power grid, and how the cost of the land will factor into the cost of the electricity." Although the company has not indicated a preference, a site close to Mildura would he at least a degree of latitude farther north than Swan Hill or Kerang, yielding a significant edge in power production because of the angle of the sun.

There is also an incentive for Solar Systems to maximise its savings of greenhouse gas emissions by choosing a Sunraysia location. Being furthest in the state from the brown coal-fired power stations in the Latrobe Valley, Sunraysia residents and businesses pay higher power costs than anywhere else in the state because of an approximate 15 per cent loss of energy in the form of heat radiated from high-voltage power lines along the 800km route.

But the reduced cost of private solar power means many Sunraysia households could make themselves largely independent of the state power grid, even before the solar power station comes on line. Mr Geering, who lectures in plumbing at the Sunraysia Institute of TAFE, said that with the price of electricity set to rise steeply over the next few years there had been a flood of applications to join the buyers' group. People were attracted by the low cost of the photovoltaic arrays and solar hot water systems, and the potentially large savings in power bills and reduced greenhouse emissions.

He said 80 per cent of local households that still use electrical hot water services were reluctant to change over to solar hot water because of the cost. Even with the maximum Victorian Government rebate, the residual cost and the high installation charges can still end up costing the householder more than $3000. Very high installation costs had also been a major deterrent to people installing photovoltaic arrays, even with the maximum $8000 federal rebate.

Mr Geering is no fan of the rebate schemes run by the Federal Government for photovoltaic arrays and the Victorian Government for solar hot water services because they operate in a way that allows some installers to rip off customers. He said he hoped the Federal Government would reconsider its decision to restrict eligibility for the $8000 rebate for installing photovoltaic arrays to households earning less than $100,000. He believes many plumbers had exploited the schemes by ramping up the retail prices of solar power units and charging exorbitant installation costs that, in some cases, completely negated the value of the rebate.

"Someone in our buyers group paid $11,500 for a 1-kilowatt installation, and when he kicked up a fuss about the cost, they dropped it by $5000," Mr Geering said. The customer had bought from a company in Melbourne and because there were few local businesses with expertise in installing photovoltaic arrays a metropolitan installer was contracted at a cost of $1000 a day for the three days it took to drive to Mildura, install the array and drive back to Melbourne.

Yet even after deducting the installer's bill of $3000, the company had still been able to reduce the buyer's $11,500 bill by $5000 and still make a profit, an indication of the profiteering involved. Mr Geering said the local buyers' group had a bulk buying arrangement with an Adelaide photovoltaics company that had decided it could do much better selling hundreds of units at a modest profit than only a few units at very high prices. "We set up the buyers group to give local buyers greater equity in a system that was weighted strongly towards the retailer," he said.

"The first photovoltaic system we installed cost $4300 if we bought 12 or more. We now have a deal with another company that has dropped the price of a 1-kilowatt array to only $895 for 50 or more orders." Mr Geering said the second company had decided against registering with the Federal Government to participate in the rebate scheme,"The second company has forced its rivals to drop their prices and they're not happy about it - because of the rebate, these guys have had it very good for for a long time.

"Instead of putting up the price to make big dollars from the increasing demand, companies should be installing twice as many units for the same price." He said the retro-fitted solar hot water system being offered through the buyers' group was not only cheaper, but more efficient than the latest purpose-built hot water systems.

It was designed for Mongolian herdsmen who needed a portable system that could be rapidly installed on their traditional, demountable dwellings, called yurts. "This unit begins heating water at an ambient temperature of minus-2 celsius, so it's far more efficient than the ones being sold under the rebate scheme," he said. Mr Geering said the rebate system was being abused. It should be the manufacturer that received the rebate, to reduce the chances of the customer being ripped off.

"If I go to a local store and buy a 315-litre solar hot water system, the store should notify the manufacturer of the sale and the manufacturer would then apply to the government for the rebate." Mr Geering said Sunraysia residents could register to join the buyers' group at

Wind farm plan is open for comment

Ballarat Courier
Wednesday 25/6/2008 Page: 5

THE planning application for a 64-turbine wind farm at Lal Lal is open for comment. Wind company WestWind Energy lodged the application with the Planning Minister this month and it is now on public exhibition. The application is for use and development of land for a wind energy facility, comprising 64 generators and other infrastructure including access roads, cabling, a sub-station, switch-yard and temporary concrete batching plant.

The wind farm project is split in two sections; one east of Yendon and one north of Elaine. WestWind said the wind farm would produce enough electricity to power 75,000 Victorian hones. The application and documents can be viewed at the Department of Planning and Community Development in Mair St, Ballarat, or Moorabool Shire Council Offices at Ballan and Bacchus Marsh.

Babcock signs US wind deal

Wednesday 25/6/2008 Page: 33

A SUBSIDIARY of the Babcock and Brown investment group has signed a 25-year deal to sell power generated by an offshore US wind farm to an east coast utility company. The Delmarva Power utility has agreed to purchase power from a proposed offshore wind farm to be constructed 18.5km into the Atlantic off the coast of the eastern state of Delaware.

"This contract is a significant step towards developing Delaware's first offshore wind farm, which will almost certainly be the first offshore wind farm in the country," said Hunter Armistead, the head of B&B's North American energy group. The companies did not disclose the deal's value. Bluewater Wind Delaware, the Babcock and Brown subsidiary that will operate the wind farm, says the alternative energy project will deliver "clean and renewable energy" as well as create jobs.

While more costly to build than land-based wind farms, offshore wind farms can take advantage of stronger, steadier coastal breezes. Several European countries have already embraced offshore wind farms as key energy sources. Delmarva has agreed to buy up to 200 megawatts of power from Bluewater Wind Delaware enough electricity to power up to 60,000 American households under the contract.

Bluewater says it will determine the final size of the offshore wind farm within two years, as it seeks to gain the necessary state and federal approvals to get the project up and running. Interest in alternative energy sources has boomed in recent years amid concerns about climate change and as world oil prices have skyrocketed.

The Babcock and Brown unit has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Delaware Electric Municipal Corporation which could lead to a much larger power supply deal being secured. Under Delaware's renewable energy goals, Delmarva Power must ensure that 20 per cent of its electricity supply comes from renewable sources by 2019. Delmarva says it hopes to start providing power to its customers from the offshore wind farm by 2012. The utility is a unit of Pepco Holdings Inc.

Plantation waste demand from developers

Albany & Great Southern Weekender
Thursday 19/6/2008 Page: 4

WASTE from the region's plantation industry has become a hot commodity. Two companies are now considering use of the region's expanding plantation timber industry to produce renewable energy. Long-term powerplant proponent Beacons Consulting has been joined by newcomer Pacific EnergyAustralia with plans to turn the region's plantation residue into fuel to make electricity.

After working on developing a 45Mw power station in Albany for the past five years, Beacons Consulting chairman Cliff Jones said the market was "more bullish" than ever in support of the project. Mr Jones said "green" power was recognised by the community for its benefits. Changes to government policy on renewable energy targets for new greenfield projects and increasing retail energy prices made "green" power more viable, he said.

"The green climate could not be better," he said. "We have been relying for too long on the long umbilical cords created by gas pipelines and power transmission lines reaching out into the country. "It's time to think of regional generation. You have got to have good back-up, especially in the regions." Mr Jones said this was highlighted by the fire at a natural gas plant in the State's north.

Pacific Energy Australia and Perpetual are in the final stages of establishing a $120 million 27Mw biomass power station at Neerabup near Perth. Managing director Adam Boyd said there was an obvious need for power diversification in WA. "We are looking at developing a project in the Great Southern," he said. "But it is still early.

There is quite a bit of scoping out required" On June 4, Pacific Energy entered into an exclusive 12-month biomass rights agreement with Great Southern Plantations over harvest residues. Included are rights to complete a feasibility study for the development of renewable energy projects. Mr Boyd said with such a huge risk of at least $100 million being considered, extensive community consultation and strategy considerations were required. "Before we spend such an extraordinary amount of money, we have to solve the concern of the community," he said.

Another silicon valley? The rise of solar energy, in one form or another

Monday 23/6/2008 Page: 10

WIND power works, and will work better in the future. But wind is only an interim stop on the way to a world where electricity no longer relies on fossil fuels. The ultimate goal is to harvest the sun's energy directly by intercepting sunlight, rather than by waiting for that sunlight to stir up the atmosphere and sticking turbines in the resulting airstreams.

Fortunately, inventors love that sort of problem. Ideas they have come up with range from using the sun to run simple heating systems for buildings, deploying "reverse radiators" painted black, to the sharpest cutting edge of that trendiest of fields, nanotechnology, to ensure that every last photon is captured and converted into electricity. The most iconic form of solar power, the photovoltaic cell, is currently the fastest-growing type of alternative energy, increasing by 50% a year.

The price of the electricity it produces is falling, too. According to Cambridge Energy Research Associates (cERA), an American consultancy run by Daniel Yergin, a kWh of photovoltaic electricity cost 50 cents in 1995. That had fallen to 20 cents in 2005 and is still dropping. Not REphotovoltaic cells (or solar cells, as they are known colloquially) convert sunlight directly into electricity. But that is not the only way to use the sun to make electrical power. It is also possible to concentrate the sun's rays, use them to boil water and employ the resulting steam to drive a turbine.

These two very different approaches illustrate an unresolved question about the future of energy: whether it will be generated centrally and transported over long distances to the consumer, as it has been in recent decades, or generated and consumed in more or less the same place, as it was a century ago.

A hot tin roof
The idea of solar cells is to keep things local. They are like wind turbines, only more so, in that even a single solar panel can produce power immediately. Put a few on your roof and, if you live in a reasonably sunny place, you can cut your electricity bill. Indeed, you may be able to sell electricity back to your own power company. The problem is that at the moment you may need to take out an overdraft to pay for the solar panels, and you will not get your money back for a long time.

Many engineers, however, are working to change that. One of them is Emanuel Sachs of MIT. Some engineers look for big, exciting technological improvements in the way solar cells work, but Dr Sachs prefers incremental change. As he sees it, it is such change that drives Moore's law, that well-established description of the rapid improvement in the power of computer processors. Moreover, the analogy is appropriate. Traditional solar cells are made of silicon, like computer chips, and for the same reason.

They rely on that element's properties as a semiconductor, in which negatively charged electrons and positively charged "holes" move around and carry a current as they do so. In the case of a solar cell, the current is created by sunlight knocking electrons out of place and thus creating holes. Dr Sachs's first contribution to the incremental improvement was a technique called the string ribbon, which halved the amount of silicon needed to make a solar cell by drawing the element (in liquid form) out of a vat between two strings. That invention was marketed by a firm called Evergreen Solar.

His latest venture, a firm called 1366 Technologies (after the number of watts of solar power that strike an average square metre of the Earth's surface), aims to follow this up with three new ideas that should, in combination, bring about a 27% improvement in efficiency. He and his colleagues have redesigned the surfaces of the silicon crystals on a nanoscale in order to keep reflected light bouncing around inside a cell until it is eventually absorbed. They have also managed to do something similar to the silver wires that collect the current. And they have made the wires themselves thinner as well so that they do not block so much light in the first place.

Dr Sachs says that these innovations will bring the capital cost of solar cells below $2 a watt. That is closing in on the cost of a coal-fired power station: a gigawatt (one billion watt) plant costs about $1 billion to build. The price, of course, is a different matter. As Paula Mints of Navigant Consulting, a firm based in Palo Alto, California, points out, price is set by market conditions. These-particularly the generous subsidies given to solar power in some European countries-have kept prices well above costs in recent years. Nevertheless, as chart 4 shows, the price of solar cells has fallen significantly, too. Other researchers back a newer technology known as thin-film photovoltaics.

Thin-film cells can be made with silicon, but most progress is being made with ones that use mixtures of metals, sometimes exotic ones, as the semiconductor. These mixtures are not as efficient as traditional bulk-silicon cells (meaning that they do not convert as much sunlight to electricity per square metre of cell). But they use far less material, which makes them cheaper, and they can be laid down on flexible surfaces such as sheets of steel the thickness of a human hair, which gives them wider applications. At the moment, the commercial leader in this area is a firm called First Solar, which uses cadmium telluride as the film.

But First Solar is about to be given a run for its money by companies such as Miasole, a small Californian firm, that have gone for a mixture of copper, indium, gallium and selenium, known as CIGS. This mixture is reckoned to be more efficient than cadmium telluride, though still not as good as traditional silicon. And it has the public-relations advantage of not containing cadmium, a notorious poison-though First Solar's films carefully lock the cadmium up in a way that renders it harmless.

At the moment thin-film solar cells are being packaged and sold as standard solar panels, but that could easily change. First Solar applies its films to glass, but Miasole's boss, Joseph Laia, points out that his steel-based products are flexible and lightweight enough to be used as building materials in their own right. Greener-than-thou Californians who wish to fall in with their governor's plan for a million solar roofs, announced in 2006, currently have to bolt panels onto their houses-an ugly, if visible, show of their credentials. If Mr Laia has his way, they will soon be able to use sheets of his company's selenium, known as CIGS-covered steel as the roofing material itself.

Supporters of solar thermal energy tend to look askance at solar panels. Cadmium telluride and selenium, known as CIGS may be cheaper than silicon, but glass and steel, on which solar thermal relies, are cheaper still. The technology's proponents think big: square-kilometres big. They want to fill the deserts with steel and glass mirrors and use the reflected sunlight to boil water and generate electricity, then plug into the long distance Dc networks developed for wind power to carry the juice to the cities.

Desert song
Those who worry about the political side of the world's dependence on oil will be less than delighted to find that one country thinking seriously about such systems is Algeria. With the power-hungry markets of Europe to its north, across the Mediterranean, and a lot of sunshine going to waste in the Sahara desert to its south, Algeria's government is looking for ways to connect the two. It is now building an experimental solar thermal power station at Hassi R'mel, about 400km south of Algiers, which if all goes well will open next year.

In April work started on a similar project at Ain Beni Mathar, in Morocco, and others are in the pipeline elsewhere in north Africa. Fortunately for people like Mr Woolsey, the ex-cIA man, America has deserts of it own which are about to bloom with mirror-farms too.

There are four competing designs: parabolic- trough mirrors, parabolic-dish mirrors,"power towers" which use an array of mirrors to focus the sun's rays on to an elevated platform, and Fresnel systems, which mimic a parabolic trough using (cheaper) flat mirrors. All either heat up water to make steam, which drives a generator, or heat and liquefy a salt with a low melting point such as sodium nitrate that is used to make steam.

All four of these designs are now either operating commercially in the deserts of south-west America or are undergoing pre-commercial trials. Although the total capacity at the moment, according to CERA, is a mere 400 megawatts, this will grow tenfold over the next four years if all projects now scheduled come to fruition, and probably a lot more after that. Moreover, those plants that melt a salt are able to divert part of the heat they collect into a thermal reservoir that can keep the generators turning at night. The main objection to solar power-that it goes off after sunset- is thus overcome.

From little acorns
The engineers clearly think they can deliver the technology. But can the technology deliver the power? A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that it can. Two years ago a task force put together by the governors of America's western states identified 200 gigawatts-worth of prime sites for solar thermal power within their territory (meaning places that had enough reliable sunshine, were close to transmission lines and were not environmentally or politically sensitive). That is equivalent to 20% of America's existing electricity generation capacity: not a bad start.

Robert Fishman, the boss of Ausra, an Australian-American company based in Palo Alto, California, reckons that his firm's Fresnel arrays combined with its proprietary heat-storage system can produce electricity for 8 cents a kWh. That matches GE's wind turbines, and mass production should bring it down further. It is not cheaper than "naked" coal (Ausra will benefit from various state governments' requirements that their power utilities buy renewable power)-but if there were a carbon tax of $3o a tonne, or a requirement to capture and bury CO2, Ausra would be able to match the coal-fired stations' prices.

The most intriguing technology of all, though, belongs to Sungri, a firm based in Los Angeles. This uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight, but focuses it on a solar cell rather than a boiler. The system is said to turn 37% of the light into electricity. In April the firm claimed it would be able to produce electricity for the magic figure of 5 cents a kWh.

That claim has yet to be put to the test, and should be viewed with some scepticism until it has been. But it is a good indication of the way the field is going. solar power now seems to be roughly where wind was a decade ago. At the moment it contributes a mere 0.01% to the world's output of electricity, but just over a decade of 50% annual growth would bring that to 1%, which is where wind is at the moment.

If Sungri is to be believed, and the point where RE is indeed <>

Monday, 7 July 2008

Australian emissions report card

G magazine
Sunday 1/6/2008 Page: 6

Emissions of toxic substances from businesses in Australia have not increased substantially in the last year, according to the latest government report. Pollutants from fossil fuel industries, meanwhile, show a massive 25 per cent increase over the same period. The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) 2007 lists emissions information in Australia, and is in its ninth year of publication. This year's NPI covers 93 toxic substances reported by nearly 4,000 Australian industrial facilities.

According to Alex Taylor, assistant director at the NPI, 47 of the substances reported had a decrease in emissions for this year, while the remaining 46 showed an increase; in other words, it was roughly stable. The total emissions for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) was 3.2 billion kilograms for the year, which is unchanged from the previous year and constitutes just over a three per cent increase from 1998 levels. Chemicals produced through processing biological material, including oil and coal, made up three quarters of VOC pollutants.

Pollutant by-products from manufacturing with petroleum or coal increased from 12 to 15 million kg between 2006 and 2007, up 25 per cent. Heavy metals, such as cadmium and lead, saw small changes for the year; cadmium increased by nearly two per cent, and lead decreased by 7.4 per cent. The majority of emissions from cadmium and lead were from building roads (both paved and unpaved).

While CO2, and other greenhouse gases may be considered pollutants, they are not tracked by the NPI. According to Taylor, the NPI follows localised pollutants, whereas greenhouse gases are pollutants on a global scale. In addition, under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007, medium-sized companies and larger companies must report all greenhouse gas emissions, making the inclusion of these emissions in the NPI redundant

Carbon tax a breeze

Geelong Advertiser
Tuesday 24/6/2008 Page: 13

FEARS that petrol and electricity prices will soar when a carbon tax is introduced are unfounded, according to a new report. Australia will enter the bold new world of an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in 2010 that will put a price on greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change. There are concerns the scheme will leave people struggling to pay their bills. But the report by CSIRO and the Australian National University has found people will hardly notice the price rises because incomes will rise much more quickly.

"There's nothing to be afraid of," said report coauthor Steve Hatfield-Dodds, senior policy economist with the CSIRO. "In the long-run perspective, we can be reasonably relaxed about it." Professor Hatfield-Dodds said the ETS would increase energy prices relatively slowly, over a long period of time.

Incomes would rise more quickly, as they have been doing for some time, outstripping energy price rises. So,"almost despite" the ETS, households will spend less of their income on energy. The report, commissioned by the Climate Institute Australia lobby group, modelled the impact of the carbon price. Electricity prices would rise 18 per cent by 2025 if a low carbon price was set, and by 67 per cent if a high price was set. The scheme would add 8 per cent to petrol prices by 2025 at the lower level, and 36 per cent at the highest.

The report found incomes would generally outstrip that growth, but warned low-income households could be worse off in the short term. The report recommended the Federal Government make an "affordability payment" to poorer households of $50-$185 a year to cover the gap. This could be in the form of a direct payment, increases to social security or cuts to income tax. The Government will rake in billions of dollars a year from the sale of emissions permits. The report advocates spending that money on the greenhouse payments, energy efficiency measures and better public transport.

Clean Energy Bill released

Business Acumen Queensland
Sunday 1/6/2008 Page: 7

Queensland business is now encountering the direct effects of climate change regulation. The Clean Energy Bill was passed by State Parliament last month. It aims to boost the state's coal seam gas industry, promote the use of electricity powered by the sun and help make mining safer for workers. The Clean Energy Bill will immediately implement an energy conservation program for businesses that use a lot of energy. It plans to fast track the state's 13 percent gas scheme target to 15 percent by 2010 and kick start a solar energy bonus scheme.

Part of the Bill also mandates mining companies must produce information about serious or fatal accidents. "Under our energy conservation plan, businesses that use a lot of electricity will be required to produce an energy savings plan and identify ways to reduce the amount of energy they use," Mines and Energy Minister Geoff Wilson said.

However, on the positive side, the Clean Energy Bill also paved the way for a new solar power bonus scheme in which households and small businesses would be paid 44 cents for every surplus kilowatt-hour fed into the electricity grid from solar power systems.

The move to boost coal seam gas use is aimed at not just the growth of 'greener' energy sources but also boosting economic development in the Surat Basin. "The coal seam gas industry is going full steam ahead in Queensland, due in no small part to our 13 percent gas scheme which requires electricity retailers to source at least 13 percent of their energy from gas-fired generation," Mr Wilson said.

"Under ClimateSmart 2050 we're increasing our target to 18 percent by 2020, but through these new laws we will fast track our target to reach 15 percent by 2010," Mr Wilson said. "The Surat Basin is set to rival the Bowen Basin as the state's economic powerhouse. Our gas scheme is an investment in people who live and work in towns like Miles, Dalby and Chinchilla."

New format for Energy Rating Labels

Appliance Retailer
June, 2008 Page: 12

The Australian Government is committed to improving energy efficiency of appliances and equipment in Australia for the benefit of our environment, and our hip pockets. One of the measures the Government will implement to achieve this is the introduction of a 10-star energy rating scheme to provide consumers with better information on the efficiency of the product they plan to purchase. The 10-star label will identify super efficient products above the current six star limit.

This will help us in reducing our domestic energy use; cutting greenhouse gases and helping Australian families to lower their energy bills. The 10-star system is designed to encourage manufacturers to improve the energy efficiency of their products with higher sales of products offering greater efficiency. The Australian Government is also working closely with state and territory governments to develop performance regulations and mandatory energy labelling for televisions, including plasma, liquid crystal display (LCD) and the conventional cathode ray tube.

Televisions are currently the fourth largest household power using product behind space heaters and coolers, water heating and refrigerators. However estimates show that newer energy-hungry technologies such as plasma and LCD televisions will double domestic energy use between 2004 and 2014. Stakeholder consultation is underway prior to the release of the regulatory impact statement.

For more information on energy efficiency programs see

A team award

Bega District News
Friday 20/6/2008 Page: 1

LOCAL environmental campaigner Matthew Nott has received an award from the Australian Conservation Foundation. Dr Nott was highly commended in the Peter Rawlinson Conservation Award, named after one of Australia's leading conservationists who died aged 48 in Indonesia while engaged in research field work. The award was established to recognise Mr Rawlinson's contribution as an environmental campaigner, researcher and teacher, and for his untiring work for many conservation organisations.

Dr Nott was nominated for the award by Ross Williams and the Anglican Parish of Bega. The nomination, which outlined Dr Nott's work on climate change, specifically with Clean Energy for Eternity (CEFE), included references from Bega Valley Shire Council mayor Tony Allen and Chairman of Bega Cheese, Barry Irvin.

Dr Nott said he was honoured and delighted to be given such an award but stressed he accepted it on behalf of everyone who belonged to the movement. "It is recognition not only of my work, but recognition of the work that CEFE is doing," he said. Dr Nott said that as it was a national award, it gave more credibility to CEFE and meant there would be more attention paid to the movement. "This will help mobilise those people who are worried about climate change, but are not sure what to do about it," Dr Nott said.

"Hopefully this will turn their concerns into more community action." Another part of the nomination included mention of Dr Nott's work with surf life saving clubs, especially Tathra with its wind turbine. "Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) is hopefully going to have a national Big Swim event next year," Dr Nott said. "So we can start making 305 surf clubs around Australia as energy efficient as Tathra." Dr Nott said that Tathra was one of the SLSA "beacon clubs" as far as sustainable energy was concerned. "It's good to know that all this work that could extend nationally, began here in Tathra," he said.

Solar industry welcomes Private Member's Bill

Bingara Advocate
Tuesday 17/6/2008 Page: 3

Leaders of the Australian solar industry have welcomed notice given in Federal Parliament of a Private Member's Bill to overturn the Government's decision to means test the Solar PV (photovoltaic) rebate. The Federal Parliament was given notice of the Private Members Bill today by Shadow Environment Minister Greg Hunt. It is anticipated that the Bill will be introduced next week.

"The future of Australia's solar industry changed from booming to dire on Budget night last month," said Conergy Managing Director Rodger Meads. 'By placing a combined income limit of $100,000 on the rebate, the Government has taken away the incentive for the very people who are in a position to consider installing solar panels. "With rising petrol and grocery prices, there are not many families earning under $100,000 who can spare the thousands of dollars solar systems cost, on top of the rebate.

"I think the majority of Australians agree we should be doing everything we can to encourage the take-up of renewable energy, not pulling it out of reach for most," Mr Meads said. Solco's Alex Lamond said the industry had seen a decline in orders of around 80 per cent across the board. "Many small businesses have already been forced to lay off workers because orders have dried up," he said. "We call on the Government to carefully consider this Bill and ensure the future of Australia's solar power industry," Mr Lamond said.

People are powering up to solar

Northern Star
Saturday 21/6/2008 Page: 9

THE biggest roll-out of solar power systems in Australia's history began in Mullumbimby this week. Byron Bay-based company Beyond Building Energy has been flooded with orders since introducing its 'solar neighbourhoods' program last year. It works by getting a minimum of 50 houses within an area to sign up to solar, allowing the company to achieve much greater economies of scale and reduce delivery and installation costs.

Australia currently has about 4000 houses installed with grid interactive solar systems. Beyond Building Energy has over 2000 houses signed up to its program, mostly around the North Coast, but also in Melbourne and some other parts of Australia. "We are able to buy container loads, rather than boxes of solar panels - the same with inverters," said Mark Hickey, the company's technical and installation manager.

"The business model is based on high turnover and small margins. Traditionally installers had low installation rates and high margins, and might only do one a week. But we're doing 10 houses a week per team." Taking advantage of the Federal Government's $8000 rebate for solar power, the company has an introductory rate of $500 per installation for a 1000-watt system. The price rose to $895 in February, but by way of comparison, other solar installers are offering similar systems for around $4700.

More than 100 houses in Mullumbimby have signed up to the program, with the installation of another 100 due to start soon. From there the company has solar neighbourhoods lined up in Goonengerry/Rosebank, Bangalow, Lennox Head, Main Arm/The Pocket, Ocean Shores, Tyagarah/Myocum and Wilsons Creek.

"We're scaling up operations as we speak. We're recruiting and training more teams," Mr Hickey said. He said the grid interactive system was the equivalent of 'spinning your electricity metre backWards'. "We actually use digital metres which record the input and output of energy. Your power company then pays you at the same rate as the electricity you use," he said. Mr Hickey estimated the average house would save about one tonne of greenhouse gas emissions and $220 a year in electricity costs.

"It means that the payback period is reasonable. For the people who got in under the $500 offer it's just over two years to pay for itself; and even at $895 it is only four years." Mr Hickey said his company hadn't been as badly hit by the Federal Government's recent decision to means test the solar rebate because they had targeted people on lower incomes.

"After the budget we lost some business, but some parts of the industry lost up to 80 per cent of their customers. People were prepared to pay up to $5000, but if it is means tested and they're not eligible for the rebate then they can't afford it." he said.