Thursday, 25 June 2009

How many light bulbs does it take to change the world?

Saturday 20/6/2009 Page: 7

A small Melbourne firm is showing the way in cutting carbon dioxide emissions, Adam Morton reports.

THIRTY million energy-saving light bulbs will be handed out to the Mexican poor under a groundbreaking project run out of a tiny office in Melbourne's inner north.

Developed by Brunswick East based start-up Cool nrg, the project is touted as both pro-environment and anti-poverty. It is expected to save 8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions - equivalent to closing down Mexico City streets to traffic for a year - and significantly cut electricity bills for people on low incomes. In return, it will earn Cool nrg up to 8 million carbon credits to be sold on the European carbon market.

Perhaps more importantly, its backers hope it will also provide a new model for socially responsible carbon offset programs if, as expected, the United Nations this week accepts it into a scheme set up under the Kyoto Protocol. It would be the first clean energy project designed to cut emissions at a household, rather than industrial, level listed under the UN's Clean Development Mechanism.

"This shows the (mechanism) is not just industrial, it's not just companies owning this, it can be delivered to poor people," Mr Frances said. "It will save Mexican families a couple of weeks' wages every year. If you aggregate that, it is $US165 million ($A207 million) a year direct to poor families for 10 years, which is how long these light bulbs last."

Mr Frances estimated the project would also save the Mexican Government $US200 million a year in electricity subsidies. It will run in 30 Mexican cities over the next three years, starting in the state of Puebla. Households will be able to exchange incandescent light bulbs for four energy-saving fluorescent bulbs at a Mexican hardware chain. Monitoring equipment will be installed in some houses to verify energy savings, which will then be converted to carbon credits following an auditing process.

Cool nrg last week secured a deal through carbon broker TFS Green to sell the first million credits generated to a Dutch company above the current deflated market price. Cool nrg senior policy officer Dougal McInnes said the Australian Government had shown interest in the project, but that Australia had not capitalised on the carbon trading job market. Canberra does not yet have a clean development mechanism registration office.

Mr McInnes said opportunities were being missed due to the delay in introducing emissions trading.

Eight industries get 95% free permits

Saturday 20/6/2009 Page: 4

THE Government has released key details of help for eight industries under its emissions trading scheme before a crucial vote on the legislation next week. The draft regulations released yesterday outline how the Government will determine which industries get what rate of help to cushion them from the effects of the emissions trading scheme.

The Department of Climate Change has decided that companies involved in the production of carbon black, methanol, silicon, bulk flat glass, newsprint and zinc smelting will receive 95% of their carbon permits free of charge. Producers of glass containers and white titanium dioxide pigment will receive 66% of their permits free.

Industry will be given free permits based on their "trade exposure" to other markets and the rate of production to carbon emissions. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said yesterday the rate of assistance for other industries would be decided with a review panel headed by former Caltex chairman Dick Warburton over coming months.

The fate of the Government's emissions trading scheme remains in doubt in the short term because a likely vote in the Senate next week is expected to defeat the legislation. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has indicated he will negotiate with the Government for more help for industry later in the year in exchange for passing the legislation, but not until after December's international climate change conference in Copenhagen.

Senator Wong yesterday seized on reports that the Opposition was organising a filibuster to delay a vote on the scheme in an attempt to avoid setting up a double dissolution trigger before the end of the year. "Mr Turnbull should come out today and rule out his senators wasting time on delaying tactics to avoid a vote," she said. "Because that is what a number of his senators are threatening, wasting time to avoid a vote, a delaying tactic that is not in the national interest. He should listen to the business community and he should listen to the Australian people."

The Opposition will move an amendment to delay the legislation until after December, but that is likely to be defeated because the Government, Greens and independent senator Nick Xenophon will reject it. Senator Xenophon's second amendment, to delay the vote until August so Treasury can do further modelling, will not be supported by the Government, Greens or Family First senator Steve Fielding.

The Opposition and cross-bench senators have all indicated they will not vote for the scheme in its present form.

Tick for city turbines - Support for green measures

Hobart Mercury
Friday 19/6/2009 Page: 7

A PROPOSAL to erect wind turbines on two Hobart buildings has been greeted as a sign of things to come. Architects and sustainability experts have generally welcomed the proposal as an example of increasing environmental awareness. Developer Robert Rockefeller has applied to put 11m-high power generation turbines on top of the Marine Board building in Sullivans Cove and the ANZ building in Elizabeth St.

Sustainable Living Tasmania executive officer Margaret Steadman said it was good to see business leading while governments were slow to act. "It's really exciting," she said. "I'd rather see wind turbines than carparks. "One of the issues is about whether people think they're aesthetic but the buildings in Hobart are sneaking up higher and higher and I'd rattier see wind turbines than more or higher buildings. "If we don't, we're in deep trouble."

University of Tasmania school of architecture associate professor Gregory Nolan said the proposal reflected developments in Europe. "There is lots of potential around Hobart to put up wind energy generation capability." he said. "The concept of having windmills of quite a large scale in parts of the city is something we should consider. "We should be putting them in as many locations as we can, that's what the Europeans do."

Mr Nolan said there were less noticeable things to consider for making a commercial building less reliant on nonrenewable energy sources. "There are far more efficient solutions than putting a windmill on it," he said. "You'd be looking to generate your own hot water ft from solar sources." Architect Garry Forward said the city was likely to have more such proposals. "To get the first ones right is important because there's going to be a lot of them," he said. "If you'd asked me 10 years ago what my predictions were, I would have thought the paneltype photovoltaic collection was the technology that was going to get there first because it can be built into roofs and walls, but it's still very low in its efficiency.

"Wind turbines won't eventually be the way to go. They will be a passing phase. "They need to be considered as part of the building, not as an add-on. I don't see any reason they shouldn't look good if they're part of the architecture." Heritage Council spokesman Michael Lynch said the council was considering the application for the ANZ building but had not seen one for the Marine Board building.

"We have been going through an exercise in which we can best allow for things like turbines and more, particularly solar panels, on heritage-listed places because this is going to become an important issue for the owners. So we need to have a pretty good handle on these sorts of things," he said. Clean Energy Council policy manager Rob Jackson said turbines were on a few buildings in Melbourne and fitted the urban environment.

Wind holds promise of work for thousands

Thursday 18/6/2009 Page: 2

ONCE an oddity, the sight of giant windmills harvesting the breeze is set to increasingly become a normal part of the landscape as Australia seeks green energy alternatives. The world's cheapest renewable energy source, which also boasts one of the lowest environmental impacts, wind energy features giant wind-turbine blades which revolve to drive an electrical generator to produce power for the national electricity grid.

Yet despite being blessed with some of the best and most reliable winds on Earth, Australia has only in the past decade taken up the cause of wind energy with a passion. There are now 50 windfarms in the country with an installed capacity of 1306MW, which equates to about 1.3% of the national electricity needs and 39% of the renewable energy sector.

Although well behind Denmark, which gets about 20% of its electricity from the wind, and other parts of Europe and the US, Australia is making up for lost time and is in the process generating employment for thousands of people in the construction and management of windfarms. Recently, the Council of Australian Governments approved a 20% renewable energy target (RET) by 2020. Once that occurs, the green energy sector will power on, creating thousands of jobs.

Pacific Hydro chief executive Rob Grant has called on the Government to pass the legislation as soon as possible. "While much has been made of the potential job losses due to action on climate change, what must be recognised are the tens of thousands of new jobs that will be created in building Australia's clean energy future," Mr Grant said.

"The jobs created in building renewable energy projects are all those sorts of jobs that might be under pressure at the moment because of the global financial crisis and are easily transferable from sectors like mining. "There is no better time to focus on renewable energy infrastructure than now.

We must legislate the RET as quickly as possible to create new jobs and limit the impact of the global economic crisis." There are expectations that through the RET up to $25 billion over the next 10 years will be pumped into the renewable energy sector, of which between 20 and 50% will be spent on generating wind energy.

The Clean Energy Council says there are six large windfarms under construction in Australia with an installed capacity of 535MW, while a further 76 windfarms are under development with more than 5800MW of installed capacity. Much of this planned development has been entirely dependent on the passing of the RET.

Pacific Hydro general manager, Australia- Pacific, Lane Crockett, expects the RET to "kick off a green-collar revolution". "There should be enough activity to keep quite a number of people thousands at least in permanent roles building new renewable infrastructure," Mr Crockett said. "There will be quite significant opportunities for people in other industries that are not quite as active.

We have ended up with quite a few ex-mining people here at Pacific Hydro, from project engineering to senior level people, so most of the skills are transferable." Mr Crockett said while many sectors had been affected by the credit squeeze, the renewable energy sector was still attracting financial support. One of the good things about being in renewable energy is that the banks, who are selective about where their money goes, like renewable energy," Mr Crockett said.

We don't represent a forward risk that a lot of other industries have, so in some ways it's easier to get money." Like other renewable energy companies, Pacific Hydro continues to expand despite the recession. Established in the early 1990s as an owner-developer of hydro-electric power stations, Pacific Hydro opened the first of its five working Victorian windfarms at Codrington, in the state's southwest, in 2001.

It is currently building the 58MW Clements Gap Windfarm in South Australia and has a number of other projects in various stages of development. Pacific Hydro has 600MW of projects which will create $2 billion in investment into clean energy infrastructure in Australia. While the company, purchased in 2005 by IFM Renewable Energy, continues to develop hydro-electric power stations in South America, the bulk of its operations in Australia are made up of windfarms.

Mr Crocket said Pacific Hydro currently employed about 240 people and expected to expand. It was always looking for skilled workers. "We have planning engineers and environmental engineers who work through the early part of the projects," he said. "Then we move into the construction phase with project managers and project engineers, as well as people with other skills in major construction work which has electrical or civil elements to it. "We tend to use construction contractors and for the installation of the actual unit you need crane operators and riggers and they tend to be highly experienced."

AGL in further push into SA

Adelaide Advertiser
Friday 19/6/2009 Page: 80

AGL Energy is continuing to invest in SA's renewable energy capacity with the purchase of a new windfarm project at Barn Hill, 140km north of Adelaide. The acquisition allows AGL to install up to 62 turbines with an estimated capacity of between 124MW and 186MW, and adds to its five projects in the pipeline at Hallett and Burra.

AGL bought the project from Transfield Services - and a smaller windfarm in Queensland - for $9 million. The Barn Hill project, which has development consent, is estimated to have long-term average wind speeds consistent with other projects in the region. The transaction was consistent with AGL's leadership position in renewable energy, and its strategy of developing a pipeline of renewable projects to meet its long-term obligations under the expanded Renewable Energy Target scheme, AGL boss Michael Fraser said.

"AGL's portfolio of current renewable generation and potential development opportunities positions us well under the expanded RET scheme," he said. The scheme, proposed to start in January but not yet approved, has a target of 45,000 GW hours of renewable energy being generated by 2020.

Gloom and doom for solar firms

Friday 19/6/2009 Page: 6

A HOUSEHOLD solar panels credits program will be delayed for at least two months after the Opposition voted to refer the Government's renewable energy target legislation to a Senate committee. The delay could mean job cuts in the solar industry after several retailers told TheAge this week they could shed hundreds of jobs because of the continuing uncertainty surrounding the legislation.

The legislation could have been voted on as early as next week but will now have to wait until after a Senate committee reports on August 12. The committee investigation was proposed by Family First senator Steve Fielding and backed by the Opposition and independent Nick Xenophon.

Senator Fielding said any job losses in the solar industry caused by the delay were the fault of the Government's decision to link industry exemptions from the target to the emissions trading scheme, which is likely to be defeated in the Senate next week. That link has angered the Opposition, which has previously stated it would pass the renewable scheme but not the emissions trading scheme.

Clean Energy Council chief executive Matt Warren said yesterday's delay meant hundreds of jobs could be lost and industry expansion plans to employ more people would be put on hold. "We are in almost disbelief," Mr Warren said. "How can this policy that everyone supports not be getting through?" The Solar Shop, NuSolar and Clear Solar have all said they would halt expansion plans and review staffing if the uncertainty continued.

Windward-bound AGL sets a green course

Friday 19/6/2009 Page: 4

AGL Energy has bought two windfarm developments from Transfield Services, the latest in a string of wind deals signed despite doubts over the Federal Government's renewable energy target. The $9 million purchase gives AGL the right to develop up to 236 MWs of extra wind capacity at Barn Hill, near Adelaide, and Crows Nest in Queensland.

The move follows further wind acquisitions by AGL and its rival Origin Energy in recent months, as the utilities prepare for a Federal Government policy that would require 20% of all power to cone from renewable energy from 2020. The policy is expected to drive up to $27 billion in renewable investment, and wind is set to dominate because it is the cheapest form of green energy. However, yesterday the Senate deferred the Renewable Energy Target Bill to a Senate committee, sparking an outcry from AGL and others in the industry.

AGL's managing director Michael Fraser said it was disappointing to see the bill used for "political football" between the parties over their climate change policies. "This unnecessary delay will impose additional pressures on an industry which is working very hard to promote job creation in a challenging economic climate."

The Clean Energy Council, which includes fossil fuel generators in its members, also slammed the Senate's move. AGL is positioning itself as the largest developer of renewable energy, while its listed rival, Origin Energy, has focused more on gas. Developing the sites acquired yesterday to full capacity could cost more than $600 million, and in March, AGL said it would spend $341 million expanding its Hallett project in South Australia.

Last month, Origin Energy bought wind development sites in Victoria but did not disclose a price. Royal Bank of Scotland analyst Jason Mabee said AGL was leading the wind energy race between the two locally listed utilities. "My view that AGL has definitely secured some of the best sites early on," Mr Mabee said. AGL shares rose 2% to $13.94 and Transfield shares fell 0.8% to $2.62.

Waves put in harness

Daily Telegraph
Thursday 18/6/2009 Page: 23

A MAJOR conservation group has backed the creation of energy by harnessing the power of the ocean swells which batter much of the Australian coast. WWF-Australia will release a report today claiming energy from waves close to the coast can provide approximately four times Australia's current national power needs. "Harnessing just 10% [of the available energy] could supply about 35% of Australia's current power demand," the report said. Building wave energy power stations which could generate 1500 MWs of electricity by 2020 would create 3210 jobs in Australia, WWF-Australia says. The group said this would be enough to power 1.2 million households with clean energy.

Wind, sun and waves the powers that will rule seas

Thursday 18/6/2009 Page: 3

LAST month, Sydney firm Solar Sailor Holdings and naval architect Alastair Callender unveiled the design for what they said would be the world's first green super yacht, a 58m yacht powered by wind and sun as well as Solar Sailor's hybrid marine power technology.

According to Solar Sailor chief executive Robert Dane, the $33 million yacht will be able to store renewable energy in its batteries, which can power onboard electrics without the need or the noise of a generator, and to run at nearly eight knots on solar energy alone. "You could take 12 people around the world in a quiet environment, with low to no fumes, never have the generator running at night and even feed into the grid at the marina," Dane says.

Solar Sailor created its first solar vessel in time for the Sydney Olympics and it has been in use since by Captain Cook Cruises, as well as acting as its research and development vessel. In November the company will launch the first of four vessels being built in China for the Hong Kong ferry authority, and it is helping design drone vessels for the US military that will use a combination of solar, wind and wave power.

The attraction of the super yacht market, says Dane, is that about 600 super yachts of 30m or more are built each year and a green yacht could be the ultimate statement of sustain ability for the rich. These wealthy clients also tend to be captains of industry who will invest in such technology in the future. The international shipping market is recognised as a highly efficient and crucial transport system for ferrying goods across the globe, but it is also one of the most heavily polluting.

International shipping is estimated to produce more than twice the greenhouse emissions of the aviation sector, as well as substantial amounts of sulphur and nitrogen oxides from the bunker fuel used in the mostly slow-running two-stroke engines. Because of shipping's international nature, and the flags of convenience, ships' emissions are poorly regulated and poorly controlled.

There are efforts announced by the International Maritime Organisation to reduce SOx and NOx emissions, and planned reductions for greenhouse emissions are expected to follow soon. However, emission reduction technologies as they apply to the shipping industry are capital intensive and may increase overall fuel costs, which is why Solar Sails and others are confident that alternative technologies such as renewables will provide the answer.

Dane says the ferries developed by his company can reduce fuel consumption by up to 30%, particularly in areas where the ferry moves at low speed. In Hong Kong, the savings will be greater because at low speed the ferries will be able to travel under silent renewable power only and could approach areas previously prohibited to them because of their noisy, polluting engines. That could cut down routes by nearly one-third.

He says such reductions could be contemplated in bulk carriers and tankers as well. Last year, the company signed a deal with China's biggest shipping line, Cosco, to retrofit ships with solar energyed sails the size of the wings of a jumbo jet. The sails are covered with photovoltaic panels that can meet some of the ship's energy needs and harness the wind to reduce fuel costs by up to 40%.

Meanwhile, Hamburg-based SkySails is developing an alternative wind propulsion system that it says can reduce fuel costs for cargo vessels by 10% to 35%, or up to 50% for short periods under optimal wind conditions. SkySails' towing kite is being tested on two cargo ships belonging to the shipping lines Wessels and Beluga Shipping. Commercial production of its sails will begin later this year.

Its clients also include the Norwegian shipping company Wilson, which will install a 160sqm kite on the MV Wilson Grip, an 88m-long cargo vessel with a deadweight of 3700 tonnes. Sky Sails says its product could generate up to eight tonnes of tractive force for the ship, which usually needs about 11 tonnes of thrust to reach its cruising speed of 11 knots.

SkySails says kites with an effective load of 32 tonnes should be available in 2011 and models that have an effective load of up to 130 tonnes are planned. It says that nearly two-thirds of the world's estimated 100,000 cargo ships could be retro-fitted with its wind propulsion system. Solar Sails' Dane says although the shipping industry is perhaps 10 years behind the land transport industry in embracing alternative fuel and technologies, he envisages a day when all ships will be driven by renewable energy before becoming completely electric.

As fuel prices rise, and the cost and price of technology comes down because of economies of scale, I can see more sun, wind and ocean energy being used," he says. "And the second thing that will happen in conjunction with this is that the propulsion systems will move to electric propulsion." This will begin with a hybrid electric system, then move to an electric motor that runs off electric storage, be it a battery system or a hydrogen cell system. The advantage of the shipping industry, as opposed to aviation or land transport, is that potential weight issues associated with such systems are not a problem. It simply can be used as ballast.

Jobs threat for solar firms kept in the dark - Uncertainty hits industry expansion

Thursday 18/6/2009 Page: 7

Solar panel retailers are preparing to cut jobs and halt expansion plans because of uncertainty over the Government's solar credit program. Retailers contacted yesterday said they would have to collectively review the position of hundreds of staff in their call centres and administration because there is no guarantee the solar credits program will pass the Senate next week, delaying its process for at least two months.

Replacing the $8000 rebate that was abruptly withdrawn last week, the credit program is part of the Government's renewable energy target legislation currently before Parliament. The legislation has become embroiled in a political dogfight after the Government linked industry exemptions from the target to the passage of its emissions trading scheme, which is likely to be rejected by the Senate next week.

Simon Schauble, chief executive of NuSolar, one of the nation's largest solar retailers, said he would have to retrench 60 people if the passage of the bill remained uncertain. Mr Schauble added that he would halt recruitment plans for another hundred positions if the fate of the credits program remained in limbo.

The biggest issue is it is stalling momentum in the industry," he said. "We had plans to put on hundreds of people over the next year but we have stopped that until we know what is going on." Paul Wilson, executive director of retailer Clear Solar, said if the legislation does not pass next week he would reconsider the positions of 80 employees.

Chief executive of the Clean Energy Council Matt Warren said a quick survey of members yesterday revealed that solar retailers would shed hundreds of jobs across Victoria if the legislation is delayed. "The Government promised a smooth transition for the solar industry between the rebate and credits system, and the chances of that have now evaporated," he said.

The Opposition was supportive of the renewable energy target legislation, which will mandate that 20% of electricity must cone from renewable energy by 2020, until it was revealed partial exemptions for trade-exposed industry would not be granted until the emissions trading scheme is passed.

The Opposition will attempt to ' decouple" the target and trading scheme with a Senate amendment but are split in the party room on whether to vote for the bill if that amendment fails. Opposition resources and energy spokesman Ian MacFarlane, and Nationals Senators Barnaby Joyce and Ron Boswell, are pushing hard to block the bill if it is not amended.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong yesterday said renewable energy target legislation contained a provision to backdate the solar credit program to any solar panel sold after the end of the rebate program last Monday. "The Government is committed to passing this legislation," she said. "We call on the Opposition to act responsibly and support the renewable energy target."

It is understood the Government's Senate schedule has listed the renewable legislation bill as "desirable" but not "urgent" to pass next week, which means it will sit behind other bills, including the emissions trading scheme, in order of priority.

Solar has power to lower electricity bill
19th June 2009

IF you're finding it hard keeping up with changes to government rebates for solar energy systems, you're not the only one. But here's an easy explanation for you. Firstly, the Federal Government's recent removal of the Solar for Homes and Communities Plan only affects power generation systems known as solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

Solar hot water incentives remain unchanged, meaning people can pay as little as $60 plus installation (about $1500) for a solar hot water system. The government's new incentive scheme for solar PV systems is based on solar credits - a program which will not be means tested like the previous rebate scheme, and which will be open to the commercial sector.

Basically, in the solar credits program you only pay a%age of the cost of the system and the installer claims the outstanding amount from the government, with that amount dependent on how many RECs the system qualifies for. The government will pay those who install solar PV systems five times the value of the renewable energy certificates (REC) the system qualifies for (up to a 1.5 kW system). So a system that qualifies for 31 RECs will benefit for $6975 worth of credit (based on a $45 REC).

The homeowner may still have to outlay up to $7000 for a 1.5kW system, but several other schemes are there to help further. The Home Sustainability Assessment Scheme, which starts on July 1, offers a free 'green' inspection for any household in Australia and may allow access to a $10,000 interest-free 'green loan' for use on renewable energy solutions and water and energy-efficiency devices. The inspection may also recommend behavioural changes.

Northern Rivers Renewable Energy operator Trent Rogers is a certified 'green loan' assessor. He said he'd already been inundated by homeowners wanting to find out about the scheme. Mr Rogers, who supplies both solar hot water systems and solar PV systems, said there were many ways people could benefit from a combination of government incentive schemes. He said the NSW Government's proposed feed-in tariff Scheme would pay solar energy producers 60 cents per kW hour of energy produced.

The cost of energy on the current market is about 17 cents per kW hour. In the proposed feed-in tariff system, a house using 20kW hours of power per day but generates 6kW hours from its solar panels would receive a 20 cent credit per day from its electricity provider.

"If a household could cut their consumption down to 15kW hours per day, which is very achievable, their financial benefit is even greater," Mr Rogers said. Money saved and earned through a solar PV system could be used to help repay the $10,000 green loan, Mr Rogers said. "But it's not just about money. A house with a 1.5kW grid connect system will save 78 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions - 2600 kilograms per year. "Also there is no doubt the price of electricity will rise significantly in the future and people should take action to avoid being caught out."

Murray Kirk, from The Solar Shop in South Grafton, said awareness about solar energy was on the rise because of the incentives and general media attention. "The weather in the Clarence Valley is beautiful for solar," Mr Kirk said. Mr Rogers agreed. "This area is perfectly placed to take advantage of the many incentives on offer. We have plenty of sunshine and people are highly aware of sustainability issues."

What does it mean?
  • REC - renewable energy certificate: A form of currency created by the Federal Government based on how much renewable energy your system produces. Eg. A 250-litre solar hot water system is awarded an average of 30 RECs ($1350 at today's rate). RECs are currently valued at about $45 each but vary according to market demand. They can be traded like shares.
  • Solar photovoltaic (PV) system: A power-generating solar panel system which usually connects to the main electricity grid. The system produces power for the household's use with the excess being sold back to electricity suppliers.
  • Solar hot water systems: There are two main types, flat plate and evacuated tube collector. The latter is more expensive but is said to be more efficient.
  • Solar Credit: Multiplies the value of the REC by five ($225 per solar credit based on today's REC value of $45). Therefore a 1.5kw grid connect system which qualifies for 31 RECs will make a solar credit value $6975 (based on a $45 REC).
  • Home Sustainability Assessment Scheme: Offered to all Australian households from July 1. Involves an assessment of water and energy efficiency in the home plus solar energy solutions. Households may qualify for up to $10,000 interest-free loans (over four years) to spend on solutions.
  • Feed-in tariff Scheme: Proposed by the NSW Government - will pay up to 60 cents per kW hour of solar electricity generated.
  • The average house uses 15 to 25 kW hours of electricity per day.
  • A 1.5 kW PV system will generate 6 kW of electricity per day on average.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Solar Millennium Inks Massive Solar Thermal Deals
June 17th

If anyone doubts the ability of renewable portfolio standards to spur the adoption of clean energy projects, they should look to California. The state is requiring that electric utilities need to get 20% of their power from solar, wind and other renewables by 2010, prompting utilities to scramble to cut new deals. In the most recent whopper of an agreement, solar thermal developer Solar Millennium said today that it plans to build, own and operate two 242-MW power plants, with an option for a third, for investor-owned utility Southern California Edison. With the backlog of federal permitting for solar projects, however, its ambitious timeline may be slowed.

The solar developer wants to begin construction on the $1 billion plants — on federal land near Ridgecrest, Desert Center, and Blythe, California — by 2010 and start generating power by 2014. Ray Dracker, senior VP of project development for Solar Millennium's U.S, subsidiary, said the company is still about a year away from finalizing financing arrangements, and the projects will need approval from the Bureau of Land Management and the California Public Utilities Commission. Besides traditional project financiers, Dracker said the company would consider pursuing Department of Energy loan guarantees.

Erlangen, Germany-based Solar Millennium builds solar thermal power plants using parabolic trough technology, in which solar radiation is concentrated by long rows of parabolic mirrors onto piped fluids that drive a steam turbine connected to a generator. The company has developed Europe's first parabolic trough power plants — the Andasol projects, currently under construction in southern Spain — that once complete will produce about 180 GW-hours of power per year. Solar Millennium says its reflectors are stiffer and therefore more precise under strong winds and produce more power than older trough technologies. And the length of its collector units can be built up to 50% longer than older technologies, leading to cost savings.

But Solar Millennium has not yet built a commercial project in the United States, only installed a demonstration plant with its technology in California. Permitting for the project could be a stumbling block, since the proposed plants would be on federal land. The Bureau of Land Management, which grants permits for renewable energy projects on federal land, reportedly has a backlog of more than 200 proposed solar projects. Solar Millennium is one of the companies on that list, for a 242-MW plant to be built in the Amargosa Valley in Nevada to supply power to Nevada-based utility NV Energy. But the project has not yet been given the go-ahead to begin construction, even though the application was filed in October 2007.

Importantly, Solar Millennium said it wants to begin construction of the California plants before 2010, meaning they would be eligible for stimulus grants from the Treasury Department valued at up to $2.5 billion. So while regulatory approval could be a hurdle, the fact that the company has entered into a power purchase agreement with one of the country's largest utilities should make potential investors more receptive.

Petratherm drilling operations next week
June 17, 2009

Petratherm will next week start one of the largest drilling operations in the country at its flagship geothermal Paralana project near Flinders Ranges. The three-way joint venture project with partners Beach Petroleum and TRUEnergy Geothermal is now fully-funded until the proof of concept stage, Petratherm managing director Terry Kallis said.

''We are entering a most exciting stage of the company's development. The $7 million Federal grant, $1.5 million from options exercised and $7.3 million raised through an SPP offer and placement and the joint venture deal, has placed us in an excellent financial position,'' Mr Kallis said.

The company this week signed a Grant Funding Agreement with the Commonwealth Government Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism for its $7 million Geothermal Drilling Program. ''We will spud the first well (Paralana 2) on site next week,'' Mr Kallis said.

It will take about two months to reach the target hot rocks located about four kilometres below the earth's surface. The deep injection well, in tandem with a soon-to-be-drilled second well, is expected to establish an underground heat exchanger capable of circulating super-heated water during 2010.

Beach Petroleum will manage the drilling operations.

Anger as green Energy Bill on backburner
June 19, 2009

POWER generation companies yesterday slammed the shelving of the expanded Renewable Energy Target Bill until at least August, just one day after it was introduced to Federal Parliament and 18 months after the legislation was promised. The Bill requires electricity retailers to source 20 per cent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2020.

The new target represent a fourfold increase on its forerunner and would have given a green light to more than $30 billion of energy infrastructure investment and thousands of new jobs.

Listed wave energy company Carnegie Corporation said the continuing uncertainty over targets was a big killer of investment. "Implementing the target would send a strong signal to industry that government is serious in facilitating investment," managing director Michael Ottaviano told BusinessDaily.

His comments came just hours after launching a joint report with WWF into the potential of Carnegie Corporation's CETO wave technology. Mr Ottaviano said wave energy could pull through $7 billion worth of investments and 3200 jobs by 2020. Listed energy company AGL, which yesterday announced it had bought two windfarm projects from Transfield Services for $9 million, expressed frustration at the delay.

"This legislation is a crucial stimulus package in supporting new renewable energy project," AGL managing director Michael Fraser said. "This unnecessary delay will impose additional pressures on an industry which is working very hard to promote job creation in a challenging economic climate."

Solar thermal company Ausra, which is close to announcing the launch of a portfolio of energy generation projects, called for the legislation to be passed without delay. "The deferral is very disappointing and stalls potentially billions of dollars worth of investments across all renewables," Ausra managing director Bob Matthews said. "If we don't get this legislation up, we won't get a flagship program and it will be like driving a car without an engine."

Clean Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said the decision to link the Bill to the carbon pollution reduction scheme and the subsequent deferral of debate on the Bill could lead to immediate layoffs in the solar panel industry. "It's time for all sides of politics to stop treating renewable energy as a political football and get on with the clean energy revolution demanded by the clear majority of Australians," Mr Warren said. "Our question to the Parliament is why is this so difficult?"

Why California Doesn’t Have a German-Style Solar Feed-In Tariff
Jun 18, 2009

It's a question we hear all the time: Why doesn't California have a German-style feed-in tariff for the solar industry? German utilities pay a high price for any solar electricity fed into the grid, with the cost distributed among the country's ratepayers. The much-esteemed policy made Germany a huge solar market, with 1.5 GWs of new capacity installed last year. For comparison, the United States would need 6 GWs of annual solar installations, 20 times more than it has today, to reach the same level of market penetration.

But at a luncheon Wednesday to discuss solar trends in advance of the Intersolar North America conference next month, some California solar insiders voiced skepticism about whether a German-style feed-in tariff would be the end-all policy for the state.

In fact, California already has a feed-in tariff, but it's ineffective because the price is low, based on prices for natural gas. The state also has a net-metering program in which solar customers use the electricity they generate for their own use, then feed excess electricity into the grid, running their meters backward. In addition, California has a solar incentive program, which offers declining rebates for solar projects, and a renewable portfolio standard, which requires utilities to get 20% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2010.

So how about it: Why hasn't California copied Germany for its much-lauded feed-in tariff? Here are some of the reasons California solar insiders have put forth:
  1. A feed-in tariff doesn't factor in where and when the electricity is generated: Because a feed-in tariff pays the same price for any kW-hour of solar electricity, it doesn't encourage generation when and where the electricity is most needed, said Sheldon Kimber, vice president of development for Recurrent Energy, which installs and finances solar projects. "One thing the feed-in tariff doesn't do is expose everybody to different market signals on the grid, such as time-of-use and location," he said, and these are important factors for a sustainable policy.
  2. Germany's feed-in tariff led to higher panel prices: Because the tariff offered such a high price for solar electricity, it created a shortage of panels that led to much higher prices. "On the one hand, Germany absolutely built the global manufacturing base, but on the other hand, it built the manufacturing base around the $4-a-watt panel," Adam Browning, executive director of solar advocacy group Vote Solar, told me last month. "We will always have the German program to thank for what it did – it saved the world, as far as I'm concerned – but it also had some policy ramifications that haven't been entirely positive."
  3. California's many utilities, each with their own unique conditions, make it more difficult to create a feed-in tariff: Getting a German-style tariff in California would be more difficult than it might seem, Sue Kateley, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industry Association, told me in an interview last month. For one thing, the state has more than 30 vastly different utilities. Some are legally prohibited from increasing some of their rates, for example, and others have very low prices for conventional electricity. Los Angeles' utility, for example, has rates of about 5 cents per kW-hour. "If solar's going to cost 20 cents a kW-hour and customers pay 5 cents, will customers tolerate that kind of rate increase?" Kateley asked. Meanwhile, prices — and peak demand — in Germany don't vary as widely.
  4. The feed-in tariff only addresses wholesale electricity sold to utilities, and doesn't encourage energy efficiency: California's mix of policies encourages a wider range of solar projects than Germany's feed-in tariff, which is focused mainly on wholesale electricity, Adam Browning, executive director of solar advocacy group Vote Solar, said in an interview last month. Overall, the policy mix "gives California a unique robustness, a lot of different ways to capture the value of solar," he added Wednesday. Kateley put it another way: "We need it all," she said, including both a retail-electricity program to help consumers reduce on-site demand, a utility-scale program, and a wholesale-electricity program like a feed-in tariff.

Wave power to create jobs
18th June 2009

Wave energy will provide clean, renewable power and thousands of Australian jobs for the future, according to a report. WWF-Australia has urged the federal government to invest in wave power following the release of a report on Thursday, titled, Power to Change: Australia's Wave Energy Future. Greg Bourne, WWF chief executive, said an investment in the industry would create up to 3,210 jobs by 2010. He called upon the government to give wave energy prominence in the Renewable Energy Target (RET) Scheme. "Renewable technologies are the nuts and bolts of Australia's clean energy future," Mr Bourne said on Thursday.

"What we are seeing here is the birth of a new industry that will provide tens of thousands of jobs and a technology and expertise that we can export around the world, as well as renewable energy to power Australia." Managing director of wave energy developer Carnegie Corporation, Michael Ottaviano, said studies at their plant in Western Australia showed there was mass potential for the industry to flourish.

He said Australia had several optimal sites for wave energy plants including Geraldton and Albany in WA, Port MacDonnell in South Australia, Phillip Island in Victoria and the southern and central coasts of New South Wales. "Australia has the largest and most consistent wave energy resource globally," Mr Ottaviano said. "At least 35 per cent of our current baseload power needs could be generated from the Southern Ocean."

Leading German companies join for north African solar project
17 June 2009

Some of Germany's largest commercial enterprises are joining forces to fund an ambitious scheme to provide Europe with electricity harnessed from solar panels in north Africa. Munich Re, Siemens, Deutsche Bank, RWE and E.ON are among the firms that have put their names next to plans to form a renewable energy consortium next month, according to the Guardian.

The joint initiative, which would be the largest industrial solar energy project anywhere in the world, could require as much as EU400 billion (£338 billion) of financing, the newspaper reported. Torsten Jeworrek, board member of reinsurance giant Munich Re, said: "We want to found an initiative which over the next two to three years will put concrete measures on the table."

Deserts in Africa are seen as the Holy Grail for solar energy, with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis claiming earlier this year that panels covering a fraction of the Sahara could power the entire of Europe. The German initiative will make used of CSP (concentrating solar energy), which involves using large mirrors to focus the sun's rays in order to heat water into steam and drive turbines.

Last month, a report conducted by Greenpeace International in association with the European Solar Thermal Electricity Association and IEA SolarPaces suggested that CSP could provide a quarter of the world's energy by 2050.

Are Fuel Cells the Key to Solar Thermal Technology?
June 16, 2009

Why are photovoltaic panels more popular than solar thermal collectors on homes? One big reason is easy storage. New technology may change that.
SAN FRANCISCO - - When it comes to energy storage, solar panels have it easy. Homeowners with PV panels on their roofs effectively store power by shuttling electricity generated in the daytime onto the grid, said Jane Davidson, a professor at the University of Minnesota and the director of the Solar Energy Laboratory there, during a presentation at the Fifth Germany California Solar Day taking place at PG&E headquarters in San Francisco today.

It's not so easy in solar thermal. Concentrated solar thermal plants in the desert store heat from the sun in large tanks of molten salt. That can be used to create steam to run a generator for a few hours after the sun goes down.

But in homes it is not so easy. Although roughly 75% of the homes and commercial buildings in the U.S, could potentially derive some of their power from solar systems, most homes aren't located in the center of the desert and thus don't get the kind of solar radiation a CSP plant will.

To make solar thermal economical, many of these buildings will need seasonal storage. "There is a mismatch," she said. "They need systems so that we can store it in the summer for use in the winter." Which brings us to the headline. For long-term storage, storing energy in chemical bonds – the secret sauce behind fuel-cells – may be the answer. Theoretically, heat generated in the summer could be used to generate a reaction, which could then be unwound later in the year.

Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute, for instance are looking at ways to take heat from the sun, zinc, oxygen and a dash of carbon to create zinc oxide and carbon monoxide. Zinc oxide could then be unwound in further reactions to produce hydrogen for fuel-cells and zinc, which can be used to release electrons in other reactions. Some researchers have proposed storing heat through a zinc-to-zinc oxide reaction.

For more near-term storage, phase change materials – materials like zeolites and desiccants that move relatively easily from solid to liquid or liquid to gas states – could be used. And for really near-term storage, says Werner Koldehoff, a board member of the German Solar Industry Association, households could use the ultimate phase change material: water. Water could be turned into ice (through a solar-driven chiller) and changed into water.

In Germany, energy storage for some residential thermal systems is accomplished through storing liquids heated by the sun in pipes in the earth.

Ocean Power Technologies two steps closer to wave-energy converter
Jun 18 2009

The US parent company of Warwick-based Ocean Power Technologies said it had passed two major milestones in the development of its state-of-the-art wave energy converter, the PB150 PowerBuoy. Once fully-demonstrated at the European Marine Energy Centre in Scotland, the company intends to deploy PB150 PowerBuoys in projects around the world, including Oregon in the US, Victoria in Australia, and Cornwall.

The two recently-completed stages for the PB150 include the completion of the mechanical elements of the power take-off system and the awarding of the steel fabrication contract for the PowerBuoy structure. Ocean Power Technologies chief executive officer Mark Draper said the company was "on track to achieve our objective of utilising wave power as an economically-viable source of renewable energy".

Clean energy jobs the loser in Canberra’s climate change game

Clean Energy Council
18 June 2009

NATIONAL: Hundreds of employees in the emerging solar PV industry face immediate layoffs as a direct result of today's decision by the Senate to defer the government's Renewable Energy Target (RET) bill.

Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Matthew Warren said the decision will only further delay clean energy projects across Australia which are poised to create thousands of new jobs and stimulate multi-billion dollar investments in regional Australia. Mr Warren said Australia's emerging solar PV industry will again bear the immediate brunt of today's latest political posturing, with dynamic new companies halted in their tracks and now making forced job cuts in the wake of today's decision.

"Clean energy companies around Australia will now put hiring plans on hold and in some cases be forced to start shedding staff," he said. "Investing in large scale clean energy projects should be the front line response to climate change. This RET legislation should have been passed a year ago." "Instead we saw it introduced late into the Parliament and linked to the carbon pollution reduction scheme by the government, and now it has been deferred by the coalition," stated Mr Warren.

The Clean Energy Council provided detailed amendments to all sides of politics to remove any impediments to the passage of the RET bill. Industry representatives have met with senior advisers from Prime Minister's office. We have met with Minister Wong and her staff. We have met with senior advisers to Malcolm Turnbull. We have met the Shadow Minister Greg Hunt. And we have met with the Greens and the Independents. All have said that they support the introduction of the 20% Renewable Energy Target.

"Our question to the Parliament is then 'Why is this so difficult?" Mr Warren said. "It's time for all sides of politics to stop treating renewable energy as a political football and get on with the clean energy revolution demanded by the clear majority of Australians."

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Power to harness a vision

Northern Territory News
Wednesday 17/6/2009 Page: 20

THE Territory boss of an innovative renewable energy company has won a national award. Powercorp managing director Alan Langworthy received the ATSE Clunies Ross trophy for his efforts in the development of remote renewable power. His Darwin-based company has grown to be the most advanced high-penetration renewable energy company in the world. And it is now widening its work to mine sites and industrial complexes.

"Under his leadership, the company has pioneered the development of high-penetration wind/diesel systems which is now enabling remote communities around the world, from Antarctica to Azores, to have large-city-quality power, almost entirely from renewable sources," he said.

Mr Langworthy said renewable energy, such as wind energy, was not easy. "The problem in remote areas, when you want to produce power using renewable energy, are the peaks and troughs," he said. "The gusts in the wind cause surges of electricity on the grid. "You have to be able to absorb that - and you have to provide power when there's no wind. "We're able to move MWs of power into the grid and out of the grid in five milliseconds, so we're able to anticipate the problem.

"We're able to dampen the system down well before the problem becomes an issue to create a blackout. The idea was to try to get renewable energy into remote areas to substitute for diesel fuel. "While diesel fuel was cheap that was not of interest to people. "But having a dedicated interest to do that throughout my lifetime has driven me to try to continue with the work against all the odds - against lack of money, against lack of interest and lack of understanding of what the hell I was talking about."

Boral, Bluescope, Caltex, Rio, Woodside, Xstrata: giving the big ETS lie
Monday 15/6/2009 Page: 1

The disparity between the public hostility of resource companies to the Government's emissions trading scheme and what they are telling investors has been highlighted by a request to the ACCC by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Climate Justice Program, a campaign by lawyers to use legal means to pursue climate change action.

As the AFR reported this morning, the groups have asked the ACCC to investigate their claim of misleading conduct by resource companies who have publicly made apocalyptic claims about the impact of emissions trading, but either downplayed the impact to investors or failed to make any disclosure. The companies are Boral, BlueScope Steel, Caltex, Rio Tinto, Woodside Petroleum and Xstrata.

This is no half-baked campaign by wild-eyed greenies. The ACJP first wrote to more than 200 Australian companies in 2003 warning them of the risks of climate change and the need to assess and respond to those risks appropriately. The enormous supporting documentation for the ACCC referral has chapter and verse for every claim made by the resource companies studied, and whether they matched disclosures to investors.

The study contrasts alumina giant Alcoa of Australia's repeated advice to investors via annual reports, ASX advices and prospecta about the uncertainty arising from the impact of the ETS and its specific concerns about each iteration of the Government's ETS, with the failure of other companies to do the same.

For example, BlueScope Steel told the media and a Senate Inquiry in April that "tens of millions of dollars would be wiped from the company's books in the first years", which would be "disastrous" for the company, but made no disclosure to investors of any kind. CEO Noel Cornish also said the Port Kembla Steelworks would be threatened, with a similar lack of advice to investors.

Boral claimed in a submission to the Government that modelling by a subsidiary showed that the impact of the Green Paper version of the ETS "could be profound" due to "the decline of financial returns to an unacceptable level." However, Boral's only advice to investors was from CEO Rod Pearse in June last year when he told investors and analysts "we have been undertaking scenario planning to understand potential financial impacts.., and we are well prepared for such changes."

Caltex told a Senate committee that while it could pass on the cost of carbon permits to motorists, there was a "risk of under-recovery of costs" which "could be significant relative to Caltex's profitability", but told analysts and its AGM in February that "the additional cost imposed on these emissions under CPRS will be incorporated into the price of the fuel and therefore passed on to consumers."

Rio Tinto produced a range of figures about the impact of the ETS, from $130m in the first year to $430m, $1b or $1.5b over the first decade of the scheme, and warned it would close half its open-cut coal mines by 2020. The single disclosure by the company has been a comment in its annual report that "Rio Tinto's costs could increase and its results materially affected."

Woodside Petroleum, one of the loudest whingers in the entire debate, was one of the worst offenders. Its Green Paper submission warned that it would scale back its LNG projects; Don Voelte told the media he would move the Sunrise project to East Timor, and that the ETS would double the company's operating costs. Woodside Petroleum made no disclosure to investors of any kind except to note in its profit announcement that "it remains too early to determine the impact of the proposed CPRS on current and future projects", which entirely contradicted Voelte's threats.

Xstrata also threatened to axe 1000 jobs if the ETS went ahead and close four coal mines, but said nothing to investors. Independent research suggests the truth is much closer to the companies' advice to investors, or lack thereof, than to their hysterical public comments.

A research report by Goldman Sachs JBWere in early May suggested the financial materiality of the CPRS (and "materiality" is the requirement for ASX disclosures) is likely to be insignificant for ASX100 companies, with five of the six companies referred to the ACCC facing carbon costs as a proportion of EBIT of 5% (Boral), 11% (BlueScope), 2% (Caltex), 4% (Rio) and 3% (Woodside Petroleum).

Except, those figures are BEFORE you factor in the free permits to be handed out to EITEs. Most of those companies therefore face costs of 5.5% of those numbers, which is a negligible amount even for Boral.

Given the non-materiality of the impact of the ETS, clearly the companies have not breached ASX or Corporations Law requirements, but the ACJP and the ACF have suggested the ACCC try to ping them for "misleading and deceptive conduct", which relies on taking lobbying and PR as forming part of the companies' normal trade and commerce. The day-to-day reality is that that is indeed the case, but whether the law stretches that far remains to be seen.

Either way, the hypocrisy - - or, more accurately, blatant dishonesty - - of some of our biggest polluters is on the public record. They have been damned by their own words, or the lack of them.

Energy farm windfall - Output to triple and cut greenhouse gas

Herald Sun
Monday 15/6/2009 Page: 12

VICTORIA is on the brink of a massive expansion in windfarms. Approval has been granted for 21 new farms, on top of the 13 already in operation. Their installation will more than triple the amount of power generated by wind from 428 MWs to 1554 MWs within the next two years, saving tens of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases.

Companies have completed extensive community consultation but are holding out for the national renewable energy target legislation to provide a better return for their investment. The legislation will require 20% of total electricity to be renewable by 2020, and could be passed this week. Renewable energy company Pacific Hydro already has several farms in operation and is poised to get started on most of its planned projects.

Executive manager corporate affairs Andrew Richards said it had been a long and frustrating wait. "We have been working on getting projects to investment readiness so that we are ready to go," he said. "As a company, we hope to triple our capacity in Victoria." Mr Richards said in coming years windfarms would attract investment of between $3 billion and $4 billion in Victoria.

Environment and Climate Change minister Gavin Jennings said Victoria paved the way for the national renewable energy target in 2006 when it set a target of 10% renewable energy by 2016. He wants to see the legislation passed as soon as possible so Victorians could start experiencing the benefits.

Energy and Resources Minister Peter Batchelor said renewable energy industries would be a source of new jobs and economic activity. "The Brumby Labor Government looks forward to the expanded national RET being passed so investment in wind and other technologies continues to grow," he said.

Renewables outstrip fossil fuels

Monday 15/6/2009 Page: 25

GLOBAL investment in new power generation from renewable energy sources surpassed that in fossil fuel related energy sources for the first time in 2008, according to a report by the UN Energy Program and market analysts New Energy Finance.

The report puts investment in new power generation capacity from renewable energy technologies at $US140bn, compared with $US110bn in fossil fuel technologies, although renewable energy still accounted for only 6.2% of the global generation mix.

A total of $US155bn was invested in companies and projects globally in 2008. While the growth rate slumped to just 5% compared with more than 50% in the previous year, it still represented an increase, whereas investment in almost all other sectors fell dramatically for the year.

However, capital raised via the public stockmarkets for equipment manufacturing and project pipelines fell 51% to $US11.4bn, mostly as a result of the slumping values of clean energy share prices, which lost 61% of their value during 2008.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

We cannot go on living like this

Monday 15/6/2009 Page: 13

Humanity has pillaged the planet, but Australia can use its abundant natural resources to forge a new way.

LAST Thursday in Belfast: I'm off soon for a flight to Heathrow, then the 22:25 Qantas flight to Melbourne via Singapore. Hotel lobby packed with people, checking out or checking in and all speaking with some kind of Slavic accent. They flew here too. Many still have airline tags on their suitcases.

That's our expectation, tourist, scientist, business executive or whatever, that we can fly anywhere any time with no cost beyond the price of the ticket. But we know that's not true. There's a carbon cost. My personal carbon signature is awful! As I board the Boeing 747 at Heathrow, I might think: "What an extraordinary machine, how ingenious we are!" Perhaps, though, I could pause for an instant and consider: "This thing burns fossil fuel, are we so smart?"

Replacing Jet A with something that's clean and green is one of the more difficult challenges as we move to renewable energy. How expensive will that make air travel? What will happen to Australia's tourism industry if only a very few can afford to fly long distances, or choose not to because of the greenhouse gas issue? Will we take more time and go by boat? It's possible to put nuclear reactors on ships, and there's always wind and sail, the way some of our ancestors came to Australia.

Walking out the door of my Belfast hotel, I dodge the seeming millions of cars, buses and trucks - there's many fewer bikes here than in Melbourne, perhaps because it's always raining - and am soon in sight of the massive gantries of the old Harland and Wolff shipyard. Ships aren't built in Belfast any more, but they've left the gantries in place as giant, urban sculptures.

I could amble over to the Titanic dock: the Irish like to say, "She was in good shape when we gave her to the English!" According to some of the climate change literature, the whole of humanity is embarked on the Titanic. Surely that should make its act. But, as the Titanic story tells its, we are major risk-takers and too often in denial. The captain knew he had a coalbunker fire when the Titanic sailed from Southampton. Did the heat weaken some of her iron plates? The hull over that bunker apparently shows evidence of severe damage. Were they hurrying to get help from the New York fire boats?

To my way of thinking, the captain and the executives of the White Star Line did an unacceptable experiment. No matter what you believe about climate change, there can be absolutely no doubt that it's a totally unacceptable experiment to take 6.8 billion human beings living in a thin, fragile layer of atmosphere, then continually ramp up levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

The old denier/ geologists have no case when they claim all this has happened before. The human family numbered only about 5 million when the climate last changed dramatically at the beginning of the Holocene epoch, making the equation for us totally different. The professional denialists fail to emphasise that the Permian/Triassic period, when methane and carbon dioxide levels went sky-high way back in geological time, is also called the Great Dying.

Maybe atmospheric carbon wasn't the sole, or even the major cause of mass extinction, but can we take that risk? There's no doubt that the planet will survive. Will we? The greenhouse gas experiment we're doing with all humanity and every other large, complex life-form, would never be approved by any university ethics-of-experimentation committee, even if the experimental animals were only lab rats!

This Belfast trip was to give the keynote talk at an immunology conference, my field of expertise. The event was at Queen's University a fine institution named for Queen Victoria and founded a decade or so before our Wonderful University of Melbourne. The meeting went well, and the dynamic, young vice-chancellor invited me to stay on for a further day to attend a formal dinner and hear a lecture by the leading engineer/ scientist/poet and former president of India, the much-loved Abdul Kalam.

The livewire 77-year-old recited some of his poetry and talked about the tremendous importance of education at every level as we seek to counter climate change. We learned that India has loads of thorium and intends to develop a whole new series of thorium, rather than uranium, nuclear fission power plants. He spoke about Indian advances in nanotechnology that have already increased the efficiency of experimental solar cells to the 35-40% range. They're aiming for 60%.

Australia can be thought of as the biggest solar collector in the world. With our small, and relatively educated population, stable political system and massive resources of metals, we could and should lead the world when it comes to developing and exploiting renewable energy. There's also geothermal, wind, waves and tides. If we become a hub for cheap, renewable energy, then it will make sense to build refineries and new industries here.

Our universities will be central to this, as they bring together the tremendous breadth of science, technology, law, economics and, yes, the humanities, that will be necessary to develop real solutions and to convince people of the necessity for change. Who wants to be on the Titanic? Apart from anything else, it's old technology. The human reality has altered out of all recognition since it was completed in 1912. Now we must change again, and fast.

With change comes opportunity. Will Australia be the great experiment that brightens the future for everyone? What we can't afford is to be the ·world's ostrich: head in the sand, backside proudly in the air while other nations march on by.

Nobel laureate Professor Peter Doherty will give the introductory talk this evening at the University of Melbourne Festival of Ideas: