Friday, 9 April 2010

Power stations operating `below capacity'

Sydney Morning Herald
Tuesday 6/4/2010 Page: 4

PROPOSED new baseload coal or gas-fired power stations in NSW may not be needed if existing plants were operated at higher capacity, according to the environment group Beyond Zero Emissions. State-owned Macquarie Generation and Delta Energy have received concept approval for new baseload power stations with combined capacity of up to 4000MW near existing plants at Bayswater in the Hunter Valley and Mount Piper in Portland, north-west of Lithgow.

The right to build these power stations, subject to final development approval, will be sold along with the electricity retailers EnergyAustralia, Integral Energy and Country Energy, and rights to the output of existing power stations, under the government's proposed energy reforms. But Beyond Zero Emissions' executive director, Matthew Wright, said many of the state's existing black coal-fired power stations were operated at lower capacity than Victorian brown coal-fired power stations, and the new baseload capacity was not needed.

"Since the establishment of the national energy market, Victorian generators have been able to dump cheap electricity into NSW," he said. "With a looming shortfall in national generating capacity, the NSW government is wanting to get in first, and crowd out potential new Queensland or Victorian generators, or emerging renewable energy supply." According to the most recent figures Macquarie Generation's 2640MW power plant at Bayswater is running at 69% capacity and its Liddell 2000MW plant at 57% capacity. Eraring Energy's 2640MW power plant operated at 67% and older power stations at Vales Point and Munmorah operated at even lower levels, 53% and 40% respectively.

On average, according to Beyond Zero, NSW coal-fired power stations are run at an equivalent of 63% capacity while Victorian plants operate at 85% capacity. Mr Wright said NSW had overcapacity of about 3000MW, roughly the equivalent of two Mount Piper power stations. The 2007 Owen inquiry into electricity supply found NSW would suffer a shortfall of generating capacity from 2013-14 and recommended privatisation of the state's generators and retailers to facilitate investment in new baseload capacity.

Australia `should lead' in solar energy push: Siemens
April 05, 2010

THE German industrial giant Siemens is urging Australia to build a massive renewable energy network to rival that of the Desertec Foundation project that will harness solar energy in northern Africa and deliver it to consumers in Europe. Siemens - - along with Deutsche Bank, Munich Re, ABB, and utility groups E.ON and RWE, among others - - has been one of the driving forces behind the $700 billion Desertec Foundation concept and the creation of energy "super-highways".

Siemens is active in Australia and has made four separate applications under the Australian government's Solar Flagships program, which aims to build two large-scale solar energy facilities by 2015. But chief financial officer Joe Kaeser believes Australia should be much more ambitious and consider its own "Austral-tec" project.

"Australia has everything it needs," Kaeser says, adding that Siemens has already held some preliminary discussions with the government and other corporates. "Australia should be in the lead (in solar energy) and showing the world how it works. If you source solar energy for nothing, and sell natural resources to other countries, it makes for a powerful business case."

Siemens is Europe's largest engineering group and is leading the push into green technology, from where it now sources some $25bn of annual revenues - - nearly one quarter of its global revenues. Kaeser says Siemens' push into green technology came in 2005 after the board analysed the global "mega-trends" and how the company might be placed in 50 years. "The push to sustainability is real. It is not a fashion."

Kaeser says Siemens' hunger for innovation is borne from need. Europe does not enjoy the rate of economic growth of China, or the natural resources of Australia. "Our natural resource is know-how." It spends $1bn on green-tech R&D each year. But Kaeser says the massive redistribution of wealth from new technologies, and the transformation of desolate solar-rich areas such as the Sahara into "economic treasures", will be fiercely resisted and the transition will not be easy.

"There is a lot of economic power behind the current technologies, behind coal-fired power plants, and the factories that produce CO2," he says. "These markets are threatened by a paradigm shift, and that can cause social problems. That is why the government needs to lead the way." He points to the experience of Denmark, which was burned by the oil crisis in the 1970s and supported massive investment in wind technology, where it now leads the world. He also points to Singapore, which with few natural resources in now turning itself into a "Smart City".

Carbon capture a `diversion'
ANOTHER to support a more vigorous push into renewables is professor Stefaan Simons, one of the world's leading experts in low-carbon technologies. Professor Simons addressed a Santos-sponsored event in Adelaide last week. His message is that the focus on carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a "dangerous diversion" that is stalling the transition to renewable energy sources and a highly efficient, low-carbon energy system.

Professor Simons is a specialist in the chemical engineering at the University College London and director of its Centre for CO2 Technology. He is currently on a global research fellowship with the Royal Academy of Engineering that includes time at Australia's Co-operative Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies, which is leading research into CCS.

However, he says CCS research (which accounts for more than half of the funds promised by the Australian government for clean energy technologies) is soaking up time, resources and funding that could be better applied in securing a low carbon future. He says CO2 capture is not fit for post-combustion at a large scale - - and therefore most existing fossil fuel plants - - but the real problem lies in technical and legal issues around storage. There will be a role for CCS, he says, but not as broad as its supporters make out.

"I challenge our energy policymakers to reassess whether large-scale deployment of CCS makes sense and whether we should continue to use fossil fuels as our primary energy source, or use these fossil resources to produce higher value forms of energy and chemicals. "We could then replace fossil fuel electricity production with that from renewable sources, at the same time reducing the need for CCS. We also need to mature our thinking, our innovation and our chemical industry so that CO2 becomes a valuable resource, rather than a waste product in need of disposal."

This, Professor Simons says, could provide an opportunity for Australia to use its expertise in coal and gas to lead in the development of to new and existing chemicals from CO2 so that CO2 becomes a valuable feedstock rather than a waste product. "It needs new business models, and policy and market support. If the coal and gas industries do not change, where will they fit into a renewable energy-driven society?"

Monday, 5 April 2010

Thin Film Solar Panels Take A Giant Leap Toward Affordable Renewable Energy
April 01, 2010

Two drawbacks to solar power were cost and the bulk of the panels, but newer panels, called thin-film solar panels are lowering the cost of solar and allowing new types of solar panels to be made. Some are flexible and can either be rolled up or formed into roof tiles, so it's hardly noticeable that you're powering your home with the sun!

Over the past decade continual breakthroughs have made the manufacture of thin-film solar panels less expensive while improving their efficiency in producing electricity. Some are even capable of rivaling the power produced by their heavy silicone counterparts. Abound Solar, a Colorado based company, has claimed they can produce thin-film photovoltaics at $1 per watt. That makes it cost-competitive with fossil fuels. By comparison, crystalline silicone panels cost roughly $4 per watt to make.

Most home installed systems convert 10% or 11% sun's energy into electricity. But it ranges between 8% and 20%, according to the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), which researches and tests new photovoltaic technologies. Traditional crystalline silicone photovoltaic panels (the ones on most homes) are more costly, partly because the silicone used in making them can comprise 40% to 50% of the total cost of the panel. Still, these silicone panels are the most efficient panels and can convert up to 20.3% of the sun's rays. Some thin-film photovoltaics are now reaching that level.

The lab set a world record in 2008 when it made a thin-film solar panel that was 20% efficient using a Copper Indium Gallium diSelenide (CIGS) semiconductor. The other promising technology is cadmium-telluride (CdTe), which has converted solar power at up to 16.8% efficiency. NREL scientist Ingrid Repins foresees that using the 20% efficient formula as the base, companies will be able to roll out kilometer-long sheets of solar cells that achieve 16% efficiency, while using the cheapest materials and emphasizing speed. Repins explains that the cost-savings achieved when the panels reach an average 16% efficiency is huge. The more efficient cells won't need to be as large and use less material. Both of which lower manufacturing and materials cost. And the smaller size also lowers installation costs, she says.

Since it takes less energy to make thin-film photovoltaics they should be able to make less-expensive solar panels for utility and residential uses, according to NREL. These new photovoltaics will be on the market soon. But thin-film solar is already available. Companies like Uni-Solar and SRS Energy are making thin-film solar panels in the form of roof shingles and tiles. And those backpacks and portable solar panels you buy to power your mobile devices while on the go are also thin-film photovoltaics.

Big companies are lining up to start producing thin-film photovoltaics. General Electric recently stopped making hard silicone panels and will begin producing cadmium telluride panels, based on PrimeStar Solar Inc.'s technology, a company GE owns most of.

The company plans to introduce the new panels in 2011. And it plans to be a high-volume producer of the new panels. "After having completed an exhaustive survey of the PV landscape, we determined that thin films were the optimum path for GE," said Danielle Merfeld, GE's solar research and development leader. The company thinks the cadmium telluride technology will allow it to produce low-cost, high efficiency solar cells.

Generation gap in rush of ideas - Research into sustainable energy technologies is powering ahead

Weekend Australian
Saturday 3/4/2010 Page: 4

IN the world of clean energy, it seems some researchers are working on a new generation of products even before their predecessors can establish a commercial foothold. Solar photovoltaic technology is a classic point. Australia has been the source of some of the best research and development in the world, particularly in the area of silicon panels and efficiency ratings. But just as new technology in the form of thin film solar is laying down a challenge for market dominance, a new and even cheaper form of solar PV, organic solar is being researched and developed in universities here and abroad.

The idea is to use organic compounds to capture the energy from the sun, using inexpensive and environmentally friendly materials that are portable and low cost. These can be used on flexible installations such as shade cloth, or painted on roof sheeting and window panels. Several research programs are being funded by state and federal governments in Australia and overseas.

Biofuels are also leaping to the third generation before the first can prove its commercial bona fides. While much is written about the potential effect on food sources of using corn-based ethanol for fuel, much research has been put into so-called second generation biofuels. These include agricultural waste and specialty crops such as Jatropha, while a new generation in the form of algae-based fuels is also being developed. MBD Energy, working with James Cook University, is confident it can develop algae technology that will absorb much of the CO2 emitted by coal and gas-fired power stations, as well as create valuable by-products such as animal feedstock and oils.

One of the themes of the cleantech industry this year will be the development and rollout of electric vehicles, not just producing new models with longer range batteries but the creation of networks that challenge the business conventions that prevail in the multi-trillion-dollar industry. Allied to this is the development of smart grids. These will allow individual users to monitor usage and revolutionise the use and sourcing of energy and allow the grid to reuse energy stored in EV batteries, for example, at times of peak demand. Energy efficiency is also expected to be a focus. The University of Melbourne is part of a global project that aims to reduce the amount of emissions used in telephony and the internet across the world by 99.5%, by introducing smarter data coding.

Another focus will be on the use of waste heat as a secondary power source and of deep-lying geothermal heat as a source for industrial, commercial, and even residential heating and cooling. Energy storage technology for intermittent providers such as solar and wind are also a focus, along with the development of relatively simply storage concepts such as using little-needed night-time energy to make ice, which can then be used during peak periods. A similar concept is being developed in India, where solar energy is used to pump water uphill, where it is stored and used to drive hydro energy installations at times of greater need.

Some of the more mind boggling technology developments contemplated revolve around geo-engineering, defined by the Royal Society as the "deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change". In short, it means that if a clean energy revolution and the decarbonisation of the economy don't do the job, then dramatic measures will be needed to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere or reflect heat away from the planet.

Among those technologies canvassed by a year-long Royal Society investigation released late last year are the development of artificial trees, shooting tiny particles into the atmosphere to deflect sunlight, The Royal Society is somewhat sceptical about the potential success of geo-engineering, and the concept is a contentious one in environmental and scientific circles because many of the proposals have unknown side effects.

There are two broad strands to the idea. One is solar radiation management, such as the particles idea, painting lots of human structures white, covering deserts with reflective material and placing shields or deflectors into space. These measures could potentially act quickly, although they do not address the root cause of climate change. But the Royal Society says they could be useful in an emergency to avoid reaching a climate tipping point.

The Royal Society says CO2 removal methods, such as artificial trees, ocean fertilisation, and land use management of the type being championed by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and many scientists, could be preferable because they are likelier to return the climate system to its natural state, and so involve fewer uncertainties and risks. But it notes that none of these technologies has proven effective at an affordable cost and with acceptable side effects.

Winds of change picking up pace

Weekend Australian
Saturday 3/4/2010 Page: 4

SIX companies are going head on in a global competition sparked by climate change fears in which Australia offers a small, but valued playing field. The name of the game is wind farming, which has emerged from the past decade with a large ramp-up in equipment production despite the effect of the global financial crisis. The six leading companies are Denmark's Vestas, the US's General Electric, Spain's Gamesa, India's Suzlon and two companies based in Germany, Enercon and Siemens.

All are prizewinners and any of them can grab the biggest share of a market that is worth more than $US60 billion ($65.5bn) a year and is set to double by 2014 and again by about 2020. Australia has more than $20bn worth of skin in this competition, according to the latest government estimates of investment plans.

However, these developments are intended to be spread over 10 years. On present estimates, wind power could account for 10% of total global electricity output in 2020. Well out in front of the manufacturers' race today is Vestas, with more than 33,000 units installed in 63 companies, solidly ahead of GE, the next largest. Vestas claims it installs a wind turbine somewhere in the world every four hours.

Industry attention, however, is on Siemens, which claims it passed Suzlon into fifth spot last year data is still being gathered across the world and says it aims to be third among wind turbine makers in 2012. Already the German engineering giant, a leader in other energy manufacturing sectors, has claimed first place in delivery of offshore turbines, the new growth area for the industry, and is building wind equipment factories in the US and China. It also plans to erect plants in India.

China is the fastest growing market for the wind turbine manufacturers; it has jumped to fourth place in installed wind farm capacity behind the US, Germany and Spain, increasing development tenfold in four years. India, meanwhile, has moved to fifth place on the global wind development table. Still well behind these countries, Brazil, with a strong wind resource and 196 million people needing electricity, is tipped to become another big developer of the technology this decade.

Vestas is a substantial investor in wind factories in China, but its main target in the past few years is the US, where it has spent $US1bn on building factories. While ahead of Vestas in the US, where it has 40% of the market, GE is highly active in China, Europe and India. Spain's Gamesa, with a strong home base, is also hard at work pursuing market share in China and India.

Enercon, which is active in Australia, made headlines last year when it erected 6MW turbines at a wind farm in Belgium, the most powerful generating units by far in the industry. The company has strong footholds in North America and India as well as plants in Brazil, Sweden, Portugal and Turkey. The big six do not have the market to themselves. They are being strongly pursued by Sinovel, the Chinese manufacturer, which has had a meteoric entry to the field in the past decade, carried along by the growth of its domestic market and a burgeoning R&D facility.

Winds of change to power up state

Adelaide Advertiser
Saturday 3/4/2010 Page: 21

SOUTH Australia will have up to 1000 MWs of windpower being generated across the state by July. A study also has indicated that Eyre Peninsula has the potential to provide up to a further 2000MW of power, which is more than enough to meet Adelaide's daily average power consumption of just over 1500MW. Premier Mike Rann said yesterday the installed capacity on Eyre Peninsula potentially could be much higher using new, high-yield turbines.

A consortium headed by the Macquarie Bank is examining the potential for renewable energy projects in SA, especially Eyre Peninsula, in an attempt to capture an estimated $6 billion in green-energy funds. During his visit to California late last year, Mr Rann met green-energy groups interested in investing in SA projects involving wind, solar, wave and geothermal power Mr Rann said yesterday the combined investment by private energy companies in wind farms across the state since 2002 was now nearly $2 billion. "There are currently two more wind projects under construction with a combined capacity of 150 MWs," Mr Rann said.

The latest projects are Infigen Energy's 39MW project at Lake Bonney and the Roaring 40s 111MW stage-one project at Waterloo. "These wind farms will add to the 868MW veneration already installed - which means that total wind generation will pass the 1000MW mark in July," Mr Rann said. Mr Rann said the Macquarie Green Grid study indicated Eyre Peninsula had the sites and wind resources to add a further 2000MW of wind generation turbines operating above 35% capacity - the threshold needed to operate economically. "However, we must first have the ability to link these extra farms to the national electricity grid," he said.

Obama oil deal upsets all sides - Concessions aimed at bolstering climate bill

Friday 2/4/2010 Page: 11

PRESIDENT Barack Obama's about-turn on offshore oil exploration drew scathing criticism yesterday from environmentalists and congressional representatives who argued that his policy would do little to secure the energy future of the United States.

It was a calculated stove to win political support for comprehensive climate legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions while mandating a switch to renewable energy "Drilling alone can't come close to meeting our long-terns energy needs, and for the sake of our planet and our energy independence, we need to begin the transition to cleaner fuels now," Mr Obama said at his policy launch at Andrews Naval Air Facility in Maryland, just outside Washington, DC.

"I know that we can come together to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that's going to foster new energy, new industries, create millions of new jobs, protect our planet, and help us become more energy independent." But green groups and some Democrats said plans to expand drilling for oil along vast lengths of the North American coastline threatened marine life and coastal environs, and sent the wrong signal in the face of climate change. Republicans labelled the President's concession as too cautious. They said the additional exploration would do little to reduce US dependence on foreign oil.

The new drilling opportunities fall well short of the expansion proposed by George Bush in 2008, when Mr Obama, then a presidential candidate, condemned the plan as backWard looking. But he defended his change of heart, saying it was part of an interim solution as the US moved to tap new energy sources. The US had less than 2% of the world's known oil reserves, he said, but consumed more than 20% of current world production. "We are going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of renewable home-grown energy." Mr Obama raised offshore drilling as a prospect for compromise on energy and climate legislation with Republicans in his January State of the Union address.

The Senate may now craft a new version of the stalled legislation. "The cynical view is that this is an attempt to buy a few more votes for a bill that would introduce carbon regulation," a spokesman for the American Gas Association, a Washington based trade group, said. The Republican leader in the House of Representatives, John Boehner, called on the President to lift the drilling ban on the west coast of the US. "Keeping the Pacific Coast and Alaska, as well as the most promising resources off the Gulf of Mexico, under lock and key makes no sense at a time when gasoline prices are rising and Americans are asking, 'Where are the jobs?'," he said.

A long approval process, which would demand time consuming environmental assessments, could delay drilling beyond 2012, however. Some Democrats, including long-time drilling opponent and New Jersey senator Robert Menendez, pledged to fight the exploration plan, describing it as dangerous. Environmentalists, too, complained. "While China and Germany are winning the clean energy race, this act furthers America's addiction to oil," Greenpeace executive director Phil Radford said. "Expanding offshore drilling in areas that have been protected for decades threatens our oceans and the coastal communities that depend on them with devastating oil spills, more pollution and climate change."

A cross-party group of senators are expected to introduce a new energy and climate bill to the Senate within weeks, after an earlier bill failed to win bipartisan support. Mr Obama has already backed the construction of eight nuclear power plants with $US8 billion ($A8.7 billion) of loan guarantees and promoted coal" target="_blank">clean coal technology in an attempt to broaden support for his climate proposals.