Sunday, February 23, 2014

What happens in Germany will affect us all

Last November I came across an ingenious campaign by the German wind energy association in support of the Energiewende and wind’s essential role in the energy transition. This is the kind of campaign I can heartily endorse.
The campaign by the Bundesverband Windenergie (BWE),, was designed to influence the then ongoing negotiations between the CDU and the SPD on their agreement to govern Germany in coalition. Now that the agreement has been struck, it’s clear that BWE’s campaign was desperately needed.
Under pressure from the utility and coal industry, the coalition appears determined to strangle growth of wind energy in Germany. If successful, they will also delay the Energiewende–Germany’s transition to renewable energy.
As BWE notes in its campaign, wind energy is the workhorse of the energy transition in Germany–as it is in most countries where renewable energy is making significant inroads into conventional generation. The utilities and the coal industry understand this and that’s why they’ve had their sights set primarily on slowing the growth of wind energy.
BWE, as a wind association, is unique and their effort reflects this. Most English speakers translate the organization’s name, Bundesverband Wind Energie, as Germany’s federal wind energy association. Unfortunately, this translation, while literally correct, doesn’t capture the difference between BWE and trade associations in the English-speaking world.

Five things we learned: Fossil fuels and fools rule Australia

Australia solar lacks corporate muscle 
In a visit to California last year I interviewed the head of the energy division of the utilities regulator, and we discussed the incentives offered to rooftop solar. California currently offers a 1:1 net tariff, which means that solar households get as much for the electricity they export as they pay for the electricity they import. The utilities hate it and want it wound back, and the regulator has some sympathy with their position. Why don’t you do it, I asked. Because the solar industry is too powerful, he replied.
He’s right. Solar is a powerful industry in California, comprising multi-billion dollar companies such as SunPower, SolarCity, Sungevity and many others. It is an industry supported by the likes of Google, Apple and Tesla, and has the backing of the major banks such as Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and others. Warren Buffett and the country’s biggest generation companies are significant investors. When California governor Jerry Brown addressed a solar conference in San Francisco last July he told them: if anyone gets in the way of the solar industry, I want to know about it.
California, like the most progressive states in Australia – South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT – is able to be this way because it has virtually no fossil fuel industry to speak of. Contrast this with Australia, where the solar industry is disparate, and fossil fuel interests have long been powerful, and now dominate thanks to conservative government in the major states and in Canberra who are convinced that their ideologies, their business interests, and their take on climate science align.
The recycling of old fossils
The head of the newly constituted renewable energy target review panel, Dick Warburton says he is no “denier”, he just doesn’t believe any of the science that says human activities contribute to climate change. And he’s rather proud of his position. Asking someone like Warburton to review a renewable energy policy would be like appointing a flat-earther to organise a round-the-world trip, or asking a Creationist to design a science syllabus, or to appoint an Institute of Public Affairs policy advisor to the Human Rights Commission. What? Oh.
In any case, it makes Warburton a perfect choice to head Tony Abbott’s review of the renewable energy target. The addition of former ABARE chief Brian Fisher, former Verve Energy CEO Shirley In’t Veld, and the housing of the secretariat within Abbott’s office will ensure that it does not sway too far from the script.
There are two things that we can be certain of about the RET now. One is that the 41,000GWh target by 2020 will not stay in place, so the anticipated development of wind farms and solar farms will be delayed. The other certainty is that the RET will not be canned altogether, because that would invite too much legal action. But there is plenty of scope to effectively bring large-scale, and even some small-scale development to a halt, with no other motivation other than to protect the interests of incumbents and delaying the inevitable.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It's Our World: Is nuclear power the future of green energy?

But a little-known radioactive element called thorium could supply the world with all its energy requirements for 10,000 years
Prof Bob Cywinski
You wouldn’t normally associate nuclear power with green energy.
But a little-known radioactive element called thorium could supply the world with all its energy requirements for 10,000 years.
That’s according to Huddersfield University dean and leading energy expert, Professor Bob Cywinski.
Nuclear technology may be infinitely safer and more refined than it was in the days of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island – but old images persist.
Prof Cywinski says people’s perceptions of nuclear energy as dirty, dangerous and uncontrollable are out-of-date but they are what keeps nuclear power off the mainstream energy agenda.
Meanwhile in Western Europe, electricity generation, heating and transport – mostly using fossil fuels – each account for about a third of the CO2 produced.
Nuclear power generates 4g of CO2 per kilowatt hour (kWh) compared to 8g for wind power and a whopping 1kg for coal, 850g for oil and 430g for gas.
And unlike uranium and plutonium, which are wasteful and extremely toxic, thorium is efficient and will not react unless it is forced to.
Thorium can also generate energy by burning uranium and plutonium waste with a minimum of waste or toxicity.
And there are already huge reserves of thorium which were unearthed in the search for rare-earth metals, which are used for magnets.
Indeed, a 500g golf ball sized piece of thorium can provide one person’s energy needs, including transport and heating, for life.
Thorium power was extensively researched in the 1960s by nuclear physicist, Alvin Weinberg, and while the technology is yet to be harnessed on a grand scale, it has won numerous supporters.
Advocates of thorium power include former anti-nuclear campaigner Baroness Bryony Worthington, who is part of an all-party parliamentary group on thorium.
Prof Cywinski has researched energy for eight years and worked alongside the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Hans Blix, and leading particle physicist Carlo Rubbia.
Of all the energies he has investigated, Prof Cywinski believes thorium is the forerunner.
Prof Cywinksi said: “It’s our job as scientists to acknowledge and address the problem. It’s no use telling people to not be frightened and accept it. You have to tell them why.
“Nuclear, I believe, is the safest form of energy we have.
“It’s a question of trust. I value my academic integrity. I’m not going to prejudice that by making up stories...
“Let’s not pretend we’re saving the planet by ripping up the land to put up these wind farms. Let’s have a planet that’s worth saving.
“There’s a place for wind energy but if we do it, let’s do it right. Let’s not divide communities.”

Ivanpah uses as much water as two holes on nearby golf course

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz marked the opening of the world’s largest solar thermal plant on Thursday in the Mojave Desert near the border of California and Nevada. The 392-MW Ivanpah project, developed by BrightSource Energy Co, started operating last month after six years of construction.
With California struggling through one of the worst droughts on record, and Ivanpah already being located in a high desert climate, water conservation has been a major focus. Solar thermal plants use solar mirrors to heat water in boilers that in turn produce steam to turn the electricity generating turbines, are more water intensive than more common solar photovoltaic panels.
“Ivanpah is utilizing dry-cooling technology that dramatically reduces water usage,” Moniz said. “In fact, this entire facility will use roughly the same amount of water as two holes at the nearby golf course.”
The electricity generated at Ivanpah will be enough to power more than 100,000 homes, and is expected to avoid more than 13.5 million tons of carbon dioxide over its 30-year lifetime, or the equivalent of taking over two million cars off the road. Last year, utility-scale solar installed a record 2.3 gigawatts.
“President Obama and the Department of Energy are committed to ensuring that all sources of energy are competitive in a carbon constrained economy,” Moniz continued, citing the more than $24 billion in loan guarantees the department has made for clean energy programs as well as the over $8 billion for fossil fuel projects that lower emissions.
The Department of Energy provided the Ivanpah project with a $1.6 billion loan guarantee, which helped attract investors such as NGR Solar and Google, which invested $168 million,according to Peter Davidson, executive director of the DOE’s Loan Program Office.
The DOE’s loan program has been a strong success — despite setbacks such as Solyndra, which threaten to take over the narrative when turned into political fodder. As of last year, losses only accounted for about two percent of the $34 billion portfolio, far less than the $10 billion loan loss reserve set aside by Congress for expected losses.
However, with projects like Ivanpah locking in the one-third renewable energy requirement that California utilities must use by 2020, and out-of-state projects offering potential competition, it’s doubtful that many more massive solar plants in interior California will be built in the near future. Smaller, distributed solar projects are also less impactful on fragile ecosystems and can be placed closer to energy-demanding metropolitans.
“The glory days, if you will, are behind us,” Tom Doyle, president of NRG Solar, the majority owner of Ivanpah, told the San Francisco Chronicle.
California is already the nation’s largest solar market because of its bright skies and statewide efforts. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the industry addsabout $2.6 billion into the economy.
And the state’s lawmakers continue to look for new ways to stay on top of the nation’s clean energy leader board, passing a law last year that would allow state regulators to raise renewable requirements without having to go through the legislature first. Democratic State Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez has also introduced legislation that would facilitate the process of raising renewable goals, possibly by up to 50 percent by 2030.

Biggest solar tower storage plant starts commissioning

crescent dunes solar tower storage
As Ivanpah, the world’s biggest solar tower power plant comes on line, commissioning has begun on Crescent Dunes, the world’s biggest solar tower power plant that incorporates storage.
The 110MW Crescent Dunes project near Tonopah. Nevada, is 5 times bigger that other pilot and demonstration projects that have tested molten salt technology, and the first at what is regarded as “utility scale.”
Screen Shot 2013-07-04 at 8.53.00 AMThe plant has been built by California-based Solar Reserve, which recently opened an office in Western Australia, and the storage capability means that it will have twice the output per MW of other solar technologies.
It also means that it can deliver electricity when needed. It has a contract to deliver electricity to Las Vegas between the hours of noon and midnight. As this graph shows, it can deliver its output in blocks, if needed, rather than the variable curves featured of solar technologies without storage.
The storage technology also eliminates the need for any backup fossil fuels, such as natural gas.
Solar Reserve says the commissioning is the initial stage of bringing the project into operations and includes system-by-system verification and startup, as well as equipment calibration and testing.
This includes “energization” of the utility interconnection system and other electrical systems, and testing and calibration of the heliostat field, which comprises more than 10,000 “billboard-sized” mirrors that track the sun and total more than 1 million square meters of glass.
Commissioning also includes systems unique to Crescent Dunes such as a Heliostat Field Control System that will control and concentrate the sun’s energy and also the Molten Salt System that will harness, store and transform the sun’s energy into superheated steam, making this the most advanced solar power plant in the world.
The facility also includes a dry cooled condenser in a hybrid configuration to minimize water use to levels well below that of conventional power plants.
“Start of commissioning of the Crescent Dunes solar power plant marks a critical milestone for the project as well as the solar industry,” CEO Kevin Smith said in a statement. “We are now able to build utility-scale power plants, fueled only by the sun, which operate on-demand, day and night, just like traditional fossil fuel or nuclear power plants.
SolarReserve’s industry-leading solar thermal energy storage technology solves the intermittency issue that limits the use of other renewable energy projects and thus enables firm, reliable delivery of electricity whether or not the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.”
Abengoa is also looking to build a 110MW solar tower plant with 17 hours of storage in Chile.

A high-renewables tomorrow, today: El Hierro, Canary Islands

Islands confront some of the most difficult energy challenges. Their size and remoteness means they pay extremely high energy costs for often unreliable and dirty energy. Yet many islands are blessed with large amounts of sun, wind, and water, making renewable energy a promising solution. One small island off the coast of Africa has embraced these resources, most notably through an innovative hybrid hydro-wind system.
The smallest and most remote of Spain’s Canary Islands, El Hierro (pop. 10,700) is a land of lava-sculpted rocks, cliff-lined shores, and crystal clear waters. It is a diver’s paradise, yet remains relatively untouched by tourism. In the early 1980s, the island took its first environmental stance, opting for a development model based on respect for the island’s heritage and conserving its natural resources. “At the time, these guidelines seemed to be in contradiction to the social and economic dynamics of the Canary Islands that were seeking to attract mass tourism built on a foundation of a spectacular real estate business,” the President of the El Hierro Island Council, Tomas Padrón, said in a presentation to UNESCO. “It now gives us great satisfaction to be able to say that we have seen that the road chosen by the people of El Hierro was the right one and we are proud of living in harmony with a natural habitat that has remained largely unaffected by the hand of man.”
In 1997, El Hierro was the first in the Canary Islands to adopt a sustainable development plan to protect its environmental and cultural richness, prompting UNESCO to declare the entire island a biosphere reserve in 2000. Yet the island was still importing and burning 6,000 tonnes of diesel per year, emitting 18,700 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Twenty percent of the electrical energy consumed ran three desalination plants to generate water for drinking and irrigation. So a lack of energy on El Hierro not only meant not being able to turn on the lights; it also meant suffering from a scarcity of water and thus food.
The government of El Hierro realized conservation wasn’t enough; it needed to take things a step further and become a 100 percent energy-self-sufficient island. Fortunately, Padrón was not only president of El Hierro’s local government, but also knew a bit about electricity as he worked at the island’s electric company. With some research and education, Padrón and the new Department for Alternative Energy Research convinced people of the viability of a hydro-wind system.
A public-private partnership was formed between the Island Council, the Spanish energy company Endesa, and the Canary Islands Technological Institute to develop the project, called Gorona del Viento.
El Hierro now has five wind turbines with a combined installed capacity of 11.5 megawatts soon to provide the majority of the electricity for the island. When wind production exceeds demand, excess energy will pump water from a reservoir at the bottom of a volcanic cone to another reservoir at the top of the volcano 700 meters above sea level. The upper reservoir stores over 132 million gallons of water. The stored water acts as a battery. When demand rises and there is not enough wind power, the water will be released to four hydroelectric turbines with a total capacity of 11 MW.
The entire project, expected to come online this year, is projected to generate three times the island’s basic energy needs—for residents, farming cooperatives, fruit and fish canneries, and the 60,000 tourists who visit every year. Any excess electricity will be used to desalinate water at the island’s three desalination plants, delivering almost 3 million gallons of water a day, enough for drinking water and to cover part of the irrigation needs.
While energy storage via pumped hydro is not new—plants already exist in numerous countries around the world—El Hierro’s is the first major plant not to use conventionally generated electricity. The hydro-wind plant had to pass rigorous environmental criteria to make sure it didn’t negatively affect the ecosystem of the area. The project developers had to remove and replant Macronesian heaths—native shrubland habitat, replant protective embankments, and protect a certain variety of cypress.
Besides reliable electricity, more fresh water, and improved agricultural opportunities, the Gorona del Viento partnership expects to earn over $5 million a year in electricity sales, and save almost $2.5 million a year in diesel imports. Since the whole project cost about $93 million, half of which was funded by a European Union government grant, project partners will recoup their investment relatively quickly. Once the system is paid off, the revenue from the project, aside from the amount used for system maintenance, will be put back into the local economy.
El Hierro’s next goal is to replace all 4,500 of El Hierro’s cars with electric vehicles. According to Javier Morales, El Hierro’s councilman for sustainability, if they sell electricity at the same price as gas, they can recoup the necessary $90 million in infrastructure costs in 10 years. The EV batteries will be charged with excess energy from the hydro-wind plant. “The whole system will be integrated,” Morales told TIME magazine. “It’s beyond green. When the power plant and the car system interact, it will be like galaxies colliding.”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Indian State Plans 10 MW Canal-top Solar Power Project | CleanTechnica

The Indian state of Gujarat is planning to expand on its revolutionary initiative to cover canals with solar panels. The state government already has a 1 MW canal-top solar power project operational. A number of other states in the country are also planning to emulate this program which saves water and generates electricity as well.
The state government is planning to set up a 10 MW solar PV project over the Sardar Sarovar canal which supplies water to the arid regions of Saurashtra and Kutch. The state government is pushing for the project as it is expected to save millions of litres of water from evaporation.
There are other advantages of the canal-top solar power projects. There is no need to acquire land for the project which can been a contentious issue in India and represents a substantial share in the capital cost of solar power projects. Since these projects carry more than one sustainability attributes multinational lenders like the World Bank may be more inclined to provide cheap finance to the projects.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Scientists in California make landmark advance towards unlimited fusion energy

By Reuters
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 13:57 ESTprint
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Energy power core abstract background on Shutterstock
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. scientists announced on Wednesday an important milestone in the costly, decades-old quest to develop fusion energy, which, if harnessed successfully, promises a nearly inexhaustible energy source for future generations.
For the first time, experiments have produced more energy from fusion reactions than the amount of energy put into the fusion fuel, scientists at the federally funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California said.
The researchers, led by physicist Omar Hurricane, described the achievement as important but said much more work is needed before fusion can become a viable energy source. They noted that did not produce self-heating nuclear fusion, known as ignition, that would be needed for any fusion power plant.
Researchers have faced daunting scientific and engineering challenges in trying to develop nuclear fusion – the process that powers stars including our sun – for use by humankind.
“Really for the first time anywhere, we’ve gotten more energy out of this fuel than was put into the fuel. And that’s quite unique. And that’s kind of a major turning point, in a lot of our minds,” Hurricane told reporters.
“I think a lot of people are jazzed.”
Unlike fossil fuels or the fission process in nuclear power plants, fusion offers the prospect of abundant energy without pollution, radioactive waste or greenhouse gases.
Unlike the current nuclear fission energy that is derived from splitting atoms, fusion energy is produced by fusing atoms together.
Experts believe it still will be many years or decades before fusion can become a practical energy source.
“I wish I could put a date on it,” said Hurricane. “But it really is (just) research. And, you know, although we’re doing pretty good, we’d be lying to you if we told you a date.”
Of the uncertain path ahead in fusion research, Hurricane compared it to “climbing half way up a mountain, but the top of the mountain is hidden in clouds. You can’t see it. You don’t have a map”.
The research was conducted at the laboratory’s National Ignition Facility (NIF), which was completed in 2009.
The scientists used 192 laser beams to zap a tiny target containing a capsule less than a tenth of an inch (about 2 mm) in diameter filled with fusion fuel, consisting of a plasma of deuterium and tritium, which are two isotopes, or forms, of hydrogen.
The fuel was coated on the inside of the capsule in a frozen layer less than the width of a human hair.
At very high temperatures, the nucleus of the deuterium and the nucleus of the tritium fuse, a neutron and something known as an “alpha particle” emerge, and energy is released.
The experiments, published in the journal Nature, created conditions up to three times the density of the sun.
In two experiments described by the researchers that took place in September and November of last year, more energy came out of the fusion fuel than was deposited into it, but it was still less than the total amount deposited into the target.
The deuterium-tritium implosions were more stable than previously achieved. The researchers did so by doubling the laser power earlier in the laser pulse than in earlier tries.
The fusion-energy yield was increased by about tenfold from past experiments, in a series that started last May. One of the experiments produced more than half of the so-called Lawson criteria needed to reach ignition – but only about one-100th of the energy needed for ignition.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, located about 45 miles east of San Francisco, is overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Eager to exploit the potential this type of energy offers to reduce dependence on oil and other fossil fuels, the United States and other nations have invested many millions of dollars into fusion research, often with uneven results.
There are two main approaches. This team focuses on what’s known as inertial confinement fusion energy – using lasers to compress fuel pellets, which triggers fusion reactions.
Other labs like the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, which is the British national laboratory for fusion research, and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey focus on magnetic confinement fusion energy – putting plasma in a magnetic container and heating it up until nuclei fuse.
Steve Cowley, director of the Culham Centre, called new findings “truly excellent” but said different measures of success make it hard to compare with his type of research.
“We have waited 60 years to get close to controlled fusion, and we are now close in both magnetic and inertial confinement research. We must keep at it,” Cowley said in a statement.
Mark Herrmann, a fusion researcher at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico which is also overseen by the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, called the new findings important, but sees a “very long road to assessing the viability of fusion as a long-term energy source”.
“I believe a compact carbon-free energy source is very important for humankind in the long term,” he said by email.
“Fusion is one bet. If it pays off, the return will be big.”
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sophie Hares)
[Energy power core abstract background on Shutterstock]