Saturday, April 30, 2011

Peak oil highlights need for a unified policy

The focus of this week's Catalyst program (both videos and transcripts are now available online) on peak oil has resulted in another mention in the mainstream press, with Paddy Manning from Fairfax writing a column on the topic in this weekend's papers - Peak oil highlights need for a unified policy.
Peak oil is forcing its way to the top of the agenda with stark warnings from the International Energy Agency and others repeated on ABC radio and television this week, after an investigation by the Catalyst program. ...

In the lucky country, of course, we'll be fine. Rising income from coal and gas exports will help us pay higher oil prices, even as our oil trade deficit blows out and oil hits $US200 ($A183) a barrel, as is forecast often enough. Can we go back to sleep now?

Not when the climate implications are taken into account, says Ian Dunlop, a former Shell executive and deputy convenor of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil.

Dunlop says the manifestations of peak oil were temporarily masked by the financial crisis - itself partly triggered by high oil prices which hurt struggling homeowners in the US subprime mortgage belts - but are now confronting us as the developed world increases consumption. The world faces a 20-30 per cent reduction in oil availability by 2020, he says.

The problem with future oil production, Dunlop says, is the amount of energy you get out for the energy you expend - your return on investment - is dropping.

''Cheap oil is disappearing. A lot of major exporting countries in the Middle East are now finding they need more for domestic markets, and there's not as much available for export.''

While Australia must keep drilling for oil, Dunlop says standards for deep-water exploration will have to be rethought following the Gulf of Mexico and the Timor Sea spills, adding delay and cost to production, just as the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion in the 1980s, which killed 167 workers, led to a complete revamp of safety practices in the North Sea.

Alternatives such as conversion of gas or coal to liquids carry a huge penalty in terms of carbon emissions. Electrification of transport only works if there is a switch to clean energy.

Desperately needed, of course, is a policy to tackle both peak oil and climate change at the same time.

Last year, think tank Beyond Zero Emissions, with Melbourne University's Energy Research Institute, published its Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan, which shook things up by calling for investment of $37 billion a year to switch the whole country over to 100 per cent renewable energy within a decade. The plan included enough installed energy capacity to power all our transport needs.

Beyond Zero has assembled a team of scientists, engineers and planners working pro-bono on a fully costed, national transport plan that will take in three streams: city passenger and public transport, freight, and intercity transport and high-speed rail. The report is due out by the end of the year.

Executive director Matthew Wright says the opportunity is there for Australia to invest in new, climate-friendly transport infrastructure and avoid spending on high-priced oil imports, which Beyond Zero estimates could exceed $50 billion a year by 2015. ''That's what I call a great big tax,'' says Wright.

The thrust of the plan is to electrify the country's road and rail transport systems as much as possible with a renewable-powered grid, and the use of liquid biofuels to replace oil for range-extending and some off-road and agricultural uses. Thousands of kilometres of new light and heavy rail would be laid across major cities. Auto manufacturers would retool to make electric cars locally.

Very fast trains would link the capital cities, excluding Darwin, and the major regional centres.

It's the infrastructure we're going to need. Unfortunately it's not the infrastructure we're building, which is heavily skewed towards roads and against rail.

And if it all sounds expensive consider that we are still subsidising oil at a rate of billions of dollars a year, whether through diesel fuel tax rebates or a fringe benefits tax regime that encourages private company car use. As peak oil bites, that's crazy.

How close is peak oil ?

Giles Parkinson at The Climate Spectator has an article wondering when the peak oil of oil production will be reached - How close is peak oil ?.
It seems politicians everywhere are suddenly waking up to the implications of peak oil. When will it arrive? Has it already passed? What does it mean for prices? And what do those prices mean for economic growth, and geopolitical risk? Most are finding that whatever action they are thinking of taking now, they should have been doing decades ago.

This week, US President Barack Obama has been pressuring Congressional leaders to remove $US40 billion of subsidies to the oil industry as he begins to rebuild the foundations of his clean energy policy that aims to rid the country of its dependence on foreign oil.

This has been a stated goal of every US President since Nixon, yet – as Ted Turner and T. Boone Pickens pointed out last week – the power and the influence of Big Oil has meant nothing has happened. Now, surprisingly, Obama appears to be gaining some sort of support from the Republicans.

Actually, it shouldn't surprise at all. As Pickens said last week, peak oil may have already passed. “Oil’s a finite resource and it’s running out,” he told a National Press Club luncheon in Washington. “In the fourth quarter of this year, demand is projected to be 90 million barrels a day and I don’t think the world can produce 90 million. If they can’t, the only way you can kill demand is with price.” He expects that price to soar to $US400 a barrel within a decade.

Not many people will argue against it. The world’s biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, may quibble about the numbers, but the kingdom’s rulers are realistic enough to start planning massive investments in nuclear and renewable energy technologies that will wean their domestic energy requirements off a reliance on oil, and free up more reserves to sell into a depleted and price-inflated market in the future.

And the change in that market could be quite dramatic. The International Energy Agency, formed as a response to the oil crisis of the early 1970s, barely recognised the existence of peak oil until last November, when it declared it may already have passed – at least in terms of conventional supplies - in 2006!

This reappraisal, it says, was the result of the most detailed survey ever carried out of 800 oil fields, which concluded that the decline rate in existing fields is very, very deep. So sharp, says IEA chief economist Fatih Birol, that the world would need to develop four new Saudi Arabia’s over the next 25 years just to maintain current production levels. And there is considerable about whether deep lying and unconventional sources such as tar sands can provide that much oil.

“It is a huge, huge challenge that we continue to underline,” he told ABC Radio’s Science program last week. “And on top of that, this would mean that the world's reliance in terms of oil supply would be on a very few number of countries in the Middle East. So you have both the financial aspect, you have the geological aspect, and you have the geopolitical aspect of the growing reliance on oil. I am afraid that there will be more and more intersection between oil and geopolitics. This is the first worry. The second worry is the sudden increase in the oil prices. This is not good news for anybody."

On the same program, Jeremy Leggett, the author of "Half Gone," a book about peak oil, and head of a UK-based industry group that is trying to get its mind around the implications of peak oil, has an even more dispiriting message.

“We think that this problem is actually as bad, if not worse, than the credit crunch. It's going to come down on a world economy that is oil dependent, nay, oil addicted, as a great surprise when oil supply begins to descend, maybe even collapse. This is a huge whistle that we are trying to blow.

“There are so many problems with conventional oil and unconventional oil that on the massive balance of probabilities, by 2015 at the latest in the view of the industry task force, there will be a descent of global oil production. That will cause a crunch, it will cause the price to go through the roof, it will cause price volatility and all the downsides that come with a fabulously expensive and, in some cases, simply unavailable oil.”

Are our politicians worried? Yes. Prepared? No. Obama clearly sees the implications, but without Republican support cannot act. China is betting heavily on electric vehicles as part of it’s solution. Australia, which exports a heap of coal and gas, but imports most of its transport fuels, faces a similar challenge.

The Australian Conservation Foundation issued a report this week noting that state and federal governments are spending at least four times more on building roads and bridges than on public transport infrastructure. Its study found that while $11.3 billion was spent on road construction around the country in 2008-9, $5 billion was given away as subsidies by the Federal government through the Fuel Tax Credits program and another $1 billion was spent through the Fringe Benefits Tax to encourage the private use of company cars. Just $3.3 billion was spent on rail construction in 2008-9. The Greens have used this study to call for a national strategy that helps the country break its reliance on oil.

The only obvious winners are electric and hybrid car makers and EV network operators. Their business is almost entirely an arbitrage play on rising oil prices. Given the current forecasts – the IEA predicted itself that sales of conventional gasoline cars will be negligible by 2050 – it’s looking something like a sure bet.

Friday, April 29, 2011

How to make durable ocean-power equipment: Dive! Dive! Dive!

Dintz has a post on Australian wave power company Aquagen, who were recently featured at the Federal Government's Innovation Showcase - How to make durable ocean-power equipment: Dive! Dive! Dive!.
Oceans are a tough place for any technology, but Australia's AquaGen has plans to generate power beneath the waves even in the middle of the Perfect Storm.

The company's SurgeDrive equipment can be set up in "wave farms," a matrix of bobbing power-generating buoys connected to a very stripped-down version of an oil-drilling platform. The lines tying the buoys to the platforms also transport the generated electricity.

The buoys generate power while sitting on the energy-rich ocean surface and riding the waves, using the waves' energy to turn a turbine. In stormy conditions the buoys are simply pulled below the surface, where the more muted wave action will allow them to continue generating power without being damaged.

Since the buoys disassemble into smaller generating units, repairs are easy. Simply remove the broken SurgeDrive from its wave farm matrix to fix on land, while the rest of the farms continues generating power.

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Catalyst: The Oil Crunch

The ABC’s Catalyst program has a special edition on energy and peak oil this week - Catalyst: The Oil Crunch.
In just a century, we’ve become entirely dependent on cheap oil. We rely on oil for just about everything, from the food we eat, to our transport systems and even our economic stability. So what would happen if we ran out? There’s a growing fear amongst petroleum experts that it’s happening much sooner than previously thought – that we are hitting Peak Oil now. So how soon will demand outstrip supply, and will we be able to avoid the global economy collapsing when it does? How prepared are we for the Oil Crunch?

The Oil Crunch

Could global oil demand soon outstrip supply? Dr Jonica Newby follows up on 'Real Oil Crisis' from 2005 and discovers the 'Oil Crunch' is imminent.

Kenyan Hot Rocks

Kenya is harnessing geothermal resources to provide clean renewable base load energy which, as a bonus, is transforming the lives lof ocals.

Oil From Algae

Oil alternatives, particularly environmentally friendly sources, are in hot demand. Could algae help meet our needs?

Sustainable Houses

A 1950's weatherboard home transformed to be energy efficient and a modern home with unique technology to monitor energy consumption.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Peak oil: just around the corner

The ABC's "Science Show" has a segment on peak oil featuring Jeremy Leggett, Fatih Birol and Chris Skrebowski - Peak oil: just around the corner.
Oil supplies are rapidly dwindling and demand is increasing leading analysts to warn of an impending oil crunch. The global oil supply has lost the equivalent of the volume of the North Sea oil reserve in 15 months. By 2014, supply is expected to fall short of demand. Other factors could bring that forward. Fatih Birol says the age of cheap oil is over and we all need to prepare ourselves for higher oil prices. Further he says no government is prepared for what lies ahead. Jeremy Leggett describes the oil crunch, when global supply fails to meet demand.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Eben Bayer: Are mushrooms the new plastic ?

Mycellium has almost mystical significance to some greens, but as Eben Bayer of ecovative design notes in this TED Talk, it can also be used to make a biodegradable packaging material called "mycobond" from a variety of different types of waste biomass, thus eliminating the need to make materials like styrofoam from fossil fuel inputs - Eben Bayer: Are mushrooms the new plastic ?.
Product designer Eben Bayer reveals his recipe for a new, fungus-based packaging material that protects fragile stuff like furniture, plasma screens -- and the environment.

Eben Bayer is co-inventor of MycoBond, an organic (really -- it's based on mycelium, a living, growing organism) adhesive that turns agri-waste into a foam-like material for packaging and insulation.

I'm not sure if this is truly a form of bioplastic, but I'm going to count it as a variety of green chemistry. Apparently Dell is going to use this in some of their packaging, so it is gaining some traction already.

You can view the growth process in this video - and unlike most plastics used in packaging, it is fire resistant.

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Energy Easter Eggs


For those not away enjoying a little holiday here are some Easter energy links.  I make no particular recommendations they just look interesting. There is no guarantee on the links, these things tend to expire after 3 months or so (or earlier). Most of these titles have been published in the last few years. The reviews are clipped from the site where I found the links – could be from Amazon.


Nuclear Energy



Link 1          Link 2

In order to understand the contribution that nuclear power makes today and its potential for the future, one must appreciate the various branches of physics, engineering, mathematics, economics, and the environment, as well as the way that power is supplied to the grid. It also helps to apply the same ideas and standards to the evaluation of competing technologies. Neither an endorsement nor a condemnation of nuclear power, "Nuclear Energy" provides objective information that is accessible - assuming only a modest knowledge of high school algebra on the part of the reader - and broad in scope.

Double or Quits: The Future of Civil Nuclear Energy


Link 1          Link 2

This text, the culmination of a two-year study, provides a dispassionate and objective assessment of the major disputes on the future role of this controversial fuel. Decision makers and their advisers, as well as proponents and opponents of the fuel, should find that this book provides clarification of the main issues influencing the future of nuclear energy: relative economics, public perceptions and the process of decision making, nuclear research and development, waste management, reprocessing and proliferation, nuclear safety and nuclear power and the Kyoto Protocol.

Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage

Link 1          Link 2

The information provided in this book examines the risks of terrorist attacks using these materials for a radiological dispersal device. "Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel" is an unclassified public summary of a more detailed classified book.  A propagating fire in a pool could release large amounts of radioactive material, but rearranging spent fuel in the pool during storage and providing emergency water spray systems would reduce the likelihood of a propagating fire even under severe damage conditions.  Although dry casks have advantages over cooling pools, pools are necessary at all operating nuclear power plants to store at least the recently discharged fuel.

Solar Energy: Renewable Energy and the Environment




Link 1

Covers solar energy resources, thermal and photovoltaic systems, and the economics involved in using solar energy. It provides background theory on solar energy as well as useful technical information for implementing solar energy applications. The book details the strengths, weaknesses, and applications of solar power generation technologies. It discusses the design and implementation of often-overlooked solar technologies, such as solar water pumping, distillation, detoxification, refrigeration, and village power. The text also examines photovoltaic power and how it is best suited for remote-site applications with small to moderate power requirements. Includes  real-world case studies, and lessons learned from technical failures.

Harnessing Renewable Energy in Electric Power Systems

Link 1          Link 2

Drawing on both economic theory and the experiences of the United States and EU member states, Harnessing Renewable Energy addresses the key questions surrounding renewable energy policies. How appropriate is the focus on renewable power as a primary tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions? If renewable energy is given specific support, what form should that support take? What are the implications for power markets if renewable generation is widely adopted? Thorough and well-evidenced, this book will be of interest to a broad range of policymakers, the electric power industry, and economists who study energy and environmental issues.

Solar Energy Engineering: Processes and Systems


Link 1          Link 2

The range of solar cells spans different materials and different structures in the quest to extract maximum power from the device while keeping the cost to a minimum. Devices with efficiency exceeding 30% have been demonstrated in the laboratory. The book includes all areas of solar energy engineering. All subjects are presented from the fundamental level to the highest level of current research. The book includes subjects such as energy related environmental problems, solar collectors, solar water heating, solar space heating and cooling, industrial process heat, solar desalination, photovoltaics, solar thermal power systems and modelling of solar systems including the use of artificial intelligence systems in solar energy systems modelling and performance prediction.

Wind Energy Engineering


Link 1          Link 2

Comprehensive details on effectively using wind energy as a viable and economical energy source. Featuring a the book covers physics, meteorology, aerodynamics, wind measurement, wind turbine specifications, electricity, and integration with the grid. Filled with diagrams, tables, charts, graphs, and statistics, this is a definitive reference to current and future developments in wind energy.

  • The business of wind energy worldwide
  • Wind energy basics
  • Meteorological properties of wind and air
  • Advanced topics in resource assessment, including wake, losses, and uncertainty
  • Wind turbine components
  • Deploying wind turbines in the grid
  • Environmental impacts
  • Financial modeling, planning, and execution

Wind Energy Explained: Theory, Design and Application


Link 1

2nd Edition Text book includes up-to-date data, diagrams, illustrations and thorough new material on:

  • the fundamentals of wind turbine aerodynamics
  • wind turbine testing and modeling
  • wind turbine design standards
  • offshore wind energy
  • special purpose applications, such as energy storage and fuel production.

This book offers a complete examination of one of the most promising sources of renewable energy and is a great introduction to this cross-disciplinary field for practicing engineers.

Renewable Energy, 4th Ed: Physics, Engineering, Environmental Impacts, Economics & Planning

Link 1          Link 2

A true shelf reference, providing a thorough overview of the entire renewable energy sphere, while still functioning as a go-to information source for professionals and students when they need answers about a specific technical issue. 

Structured around three parts in order to assist readers in focusing on the issues that impact them the most for a given project or question.

PART I covers the basic scientific principles behind all major renewable energy resources, such as solar, wind and biomass.

PART II provides in-depth information about how these raw renewable sources can actually be converted into useful forms, transmitted into the grid and stored for future utilization.

PART III undertakes the aspects of energy planning, environmental impacts and socio-economic issues on regional and global levels.

Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society

Link 1          Link 2

It is widely assumed that our consumer society can move from   using fossil fuels to using renewable energy sources while maintaining the   high levels of energy use to which we have become accustomed. This book   details the reasons why this almost unquestioned assumption is seriously   mistaken.  Chapters on wind, photovoltaic and solar thermal sources argue that these   are not able to meet present electricity demands, let alone future demands.   The   planet's capacity to produce biomass is far below what would be required to  meet the demand for liquid fuel.   Chapter 6 explains why it is not likely that there will ever be a hydrogen   economy. Chapter 9 explains why nuclear energy is not the answer.  The discussion is then extended beyond energy to deal with the ways in   which our consumer society is grossly unsustainable and unjust. 

Just as a footnote, a search at Amazon for Molten Salt Reactor suggests that while this design is promoted as 'inherently safe', the required engineering talent to build and operate them is probably very thin. The few texts on this topic appear to be at least 20-30 (or more) years old. This suggests that, in spite of the scientific research this complex technology is very immature. By the time the first commercial prototype reactor is built 10 - 20 years may have passed. To go any faster would require the "learning by doing" approach adopted at Fukushima.
Also read the interesting perspective of Kurt Cobb: The Nuclear Industry's Wrong Turn.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Carnegie set to catch the next energy wave

While interest (and progress) in wave power projects has lagged that of tidal power projects in recent years, ocean energy company Carnegie Wave Energy has continued plugging away in the field and recently announced that it has successfully activated its first commercial-scale CETO unit off Garden Island in Western Australia on the weekend - ahead of schedule.

The West Australian has a report on the launch - Carnegie makes waves with renewable energy
Carnegie's technology, developed by company founder and inventor Alan Burns, relies on buoys anchored on the ocean floor that use the motion of passing waves to drive pumps which then deliver pressurised water to shore.

The company will monitor power produced at the Garden Island site over the next month and if all goes to plan, will eventually install up to 30 units, enough to produce power for 3500 homes.

Carnegie managing director Michael Ottaviano said yesterday the unit was producing power "exactly as expected". "This is the most significant milestone in Carnegie's history," Dr Ottaviano said.

The State Government has invested $12.5 million in Carnegie's efforts to bring its CETO technology to market. But despite Australia's reliable wave source, the company has increasingly been forced to look overseas for development funds. In 2009, it scrapped plans to develop the world's biggest wave power project near Albany after it was overlooked for a major Federal Government grant. The $300 million pilot project had aimed to produce 50MW of power, enough electricity for 30,000 homes.

The Climate Spectator has more, noting the company is looking to make wave power as cheap as wind power - All set to catch the next energy wave.
Wave energy, in theory at least, could provide up to one third of Australia’s energy needs, according to Carnegie, although the CSIRO has predicted even greater potential. In a country rich with renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal, not to mention its fossil fuels, it will likely never meet that capacity. But it could play a key role in some areas, particularly if it delivers on its cost predictions, and may become critical to the energy needs of countries in Europe, Africa and South America, that have few other options. ...

Ottaviano says Carnegie will monitor the unit’s performance over the next 6-8 weeks, but within the next few months will make a decision on where to deploy its first full-scale demonstration plant, likely to be up to 20 units generating around 2MW of power.

Garden Island is the most likely option, because it can deliver the project in the quickest time, but the company is also being courted by Reunion Island, where its partner, the French energy giant EDF, is offering to pay half its costs and the French government offering to pay a generous feed in tariff.

Wherever the first demonstration plant is built, the future roll-out of multiple units is likely to take place overseas, where some countries such as Ireland and Scotland are battling to become the world centre for ocean energy.

“The countries pursuing wave energy are doing so because they see a competitive advantage,” Ottaviano says. “They want to own the space. It’s not just about generating kilowatt hours into the grid, it’s about industry development and IP generation. That sort of argument doesn’t penetrate in Australia. All we hear about is the costs in developing the technologies.”

Ottaviano notes that Ireland, where Carnegie has developed strong commercial relationships, is the only country in the world with a defined wave energy target – it wants to install 500MW of capacity by 2020.

Carnegie’s own goal is to have 40-50MW of installed capacity by 2015, and it is likely to happen either in western European countries that are offering generous tariffs, or on remote islands, where local authorities are seeking to displace expensive diesel.

Ottaviano says analysis by Parsons Brinckerhoff suggested that once economies of scale are achieved, costs could fall to as low as 12c per kilowatt hour. “We will start higher than that, so the best markets for us will be where we can get the best tariffs.”

In Bermuda, for instance, where the company has recently installed a wave-monitoring buoy, the proposed tariff is 42c/kWh. “The trick for us is in the next five years, deploy 50MW of projects in high tariff region and use them to generate economies of scale to get costs down to 12-13c/kWh,” Ottaviano says. “At that point we will be competitive with wind.”

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Australian wind power, built by China

The Climate Spectator reports that Australian renewable energy project developer CBD Energy has struck a deal with 2 large Chinese companies to develop $3 billion worth of wind and solar power plants in Australia within three years and $6 billion over eight years - Australian wind, built by China. The Climate Spectator also has an interview with CBD leader Gerry McGowan - Q&A: Gerry McGowan.
Gerry McGowan, the managing director of emerging renewable energy company CBD Energy, bristles at the suggestion that he has ambitions well beyond his station. McGowan, who took on the two airline incumbents Qantas and Ansett when he launched his Impulse Airlines venture in the 1980s, now plans a similar assault on the Australian renewables industry.

The difference this time is the industry structure and its growth prospects. It’s ripe for someone to seize a major portion of a market that is yet to be developed. CBD – capitalised at just $83 million – on Monday announced a new venture that aims to be the biggest renewable energy group in Australia in a matter of a few years, with at least $6 billion of investments. But it’s not so much what McGowan has on the table that counts, it is who he has behind him.

CBD has finalised an agreement with the renewable energy offshoots of two of the biggest Chinese energy companies – China Datang Corporation and Tianwei Group – that will create a special purpose vehicle called AusChina Energy Group. Within three years it expects to have invested $3 billion in 1500MW of wind power capacity, built or under construction, and it expects to eventually account for one third of new renewable generation capacity in this country – before turning its attention to solar, and possibly the gas industry, and then overseas.

To understand how this is possible, it’s important to know the answer to a couple of key questions: where to get the cheapest turbines, and where to get the cheapest finance. The answer in both cases is China. And then it is important to note who these partners are. They are both state owned, and both subsidiaries of Fortune 500 companies: China Datang is the second biggest electricity utility in China, and its installed capacity of 100 gigawatts alone is more than double that of Australia’s entire electricity grid; Tianwei is one of China’s biggest solar, wind and electrical equipment producers.

The deal is clearly a game changer for CBD – which has a thriving solar panel business, some ambitious solar projects for overseas, and has dabbled in just a few small-scale wind energy projects in Australia, a 0.5MW facility on NZ's Chatham Islands and a proposed 70MW wind farm in NSW's Snowy Mountains, Adjungbilly, which was to receive funding and technology from Tianwei.

But it’s also a game changer for the Australian renewable energy industry. The industry has been stifled by constant changes to policies – McGowan estimates there have been 22 key policy changes in the last 6 months alone – and the shambles with the renewable energy target legislation means that developers have been unable to gain the power purchase agreements (PPAs) and the finance to start the rollout of the wind farms and other projects needed to meet the government’s 20 per cent target by 2020.

AusChina’s access to cheaper technology and cheap finance gives it a powerful competitive advantage over its rivals. The cost of turbines is going down, their output is going up, and the cost of capital will be lower with the state-backed partners. McGowan says the venture will be able to deliver wind power at around $90/MWh, compared to around $110-$120MW/h for many of its rivals, and it expects it to drive costs down further.

McGowan says that if the incumbent retailers are unwilling to sign PPAs, then AusChina will simply organise its own financing, either by setting up its own merchant business, or even its own energy retail business. In effect, the entry of the Chinese companies has every prospect of changing the dynamics of the industry.

If Australian companies can’t get around to building their own renewable projects, then the Chinese will do it for them. Hu Guodong – vice president of Datang Renewable Power Co, the listed offshoot – says the slow rollout of renewable projects in Australia has presented an irresistible opportunity for companies such as his. “Australia has amazing solar and wind resources,” he told Climate Spectator through a translator.

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reviewing the Reviewers

A long while is shorter than it seems.

I have been kindly provided (thank you CV) with copies of the reviews mentioned in The least Fortunate Island, one of which was cited by George Monbiot in his “I’m shocked, shocked, I tells ‘e” article published globally to the delight and disdain of many depending on prior convictions.

This post provides a summary of two reviews, one used by George Monbiot in his public tiff. George bends it a bit.

My take on this issue. I think about it this way:

Just as no individual cancer can be easily attributed to Chernobyl, no individual weather event can be easily attributed to climate change.

Does this mean we ignore the cumulative effects of an increase in temperature? No. So how about those of radiation?

One of the reasons for the adoption of the (conservative) Linear No Threshold model is that the consequences of making a Type II statistical error (i.e. failing to detect an effect when there is one) are so serious (i.e. cancer).

Pro Nuclear advocates of a self proclaimed green persuasion (Nuclear Greens) should remember that taking action against climate change started well before all the evidence was in for the same reason.

This is the precautionary principle.

Read the rest if you need some sleep material…

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Areva steps into the sun in Queensland

The Climate Spectator reports that recent speculation that Areva's push into solar thermal power would soon bear fruit has proved to be true, with the company announcing a 44MW CSP plant to supplement the existing coal fired plant at Kogan Creek in Queesnland (OK - it not as good as a Spanigh or Californian style large scale pure CSP plant with molten salt storage, but its a step forward) - Areva's sunshine test.
It’s been just over a year since French nuclear giant Areva bought out the aspiring solar thermal energy developer Ausra, but the purchase of the Californian-based company with the Australian-grown technology may be about to pay dividends.

On Wednesday, Areva announced it had confirmed financing details with the federal government and its joint venture partner CS Energy for a 44MW solar booster project at the Kogan Creek coal-fired power station on Queensland’s Darling Downs. The company hopes that it will be the first of a string of projects to be announced in Australia, the Middle East, India, Africa and the US over coming months that could lead to $1 billion of revenue within 3-5 years, and set Areva on its way to becoming a leading player in the global solar energy market. It’s pitching all its solar hopes on this one technology.

The Kogan Creek Solar Booster project gave Prime Minister Julia Gillard a wonderful new photo opportunity, and the government some hope that one of the many projects to which it has allotted grants may finally come to fruition. The $105 million project, which will begin construction in the next few months and be completed by 2013, will receive $32 million from the federal government’s renewable energy demonstration program, as well as $35 million from a Queensland government fund. CS Energy will contribute the rest.

The project was originally announced last year as a 23MW facility, but improvements in the final design and in the technology since it was first awarded the grant means that it will be able to run at a capacity of 44MW at peak solar times. That makes it the largest project of its type in the world, and the first commercial-scale operation for Areva Solar, which previously had an 8MW booster plant at the Liddell power station in NSW and a 5MW Kimberlina demonstration plant at Bakersfield, California, where much of its recent technology improvements have been achieved.

The technology, conceived by Dr David Mills at Sydney University, before he and his partners moved to California in the search of venture capital, is known as Compact Linear Fresnel (CLFR) which uses modular flat mirrors to focus the sun’s heat onto centralised receivers, where water flowing through a system of tubes is boiled, producing steam. The major achievements over the last 12-18 months has been upgrading the ability to deliver medium pressure, saturated steam to be able to provide high pressure, superheated steam (400°C), a breakthrough that will increase its range of applications, including to industrial ones and lower its costs.

Areva says booster projects such as that at Kogan Creek are particularly attractive because they reduce the levelised cost of electricity to 30 per cent below that of stand-alone solar thermal power plants, mostly because they take advantage of existing infrastructure (including grid connection) and they can be built in a year or less.

Areva says these sort of projects will allow the company to deploy rapidly in the 30MW-50MW project range, increase the customer’s comfort level with the technology and ability to deliver – a crucial step towards executing on a large scale basis. It sees plants on a scale of around 100MW-140MW would be an optimum size for this type of facility.

Still, the ability to deliver super-heated steam means that the technology can also operate on a stand-alone basis. It is still in the running in the government’s solar flagships contest, with a stand-alone 250MW facility that it proposes to develop with WindProspect, also in Queensland. It has also been involved with the Midwest Solar consortium in WA, although it is unclear where that project is heading at the moment.

Solar thermal has taken a back seat to solar PV in recent years, thanks to the generous government incentives that have caused a massive increase in scale in the PV industry, and huge reductions in costs, driven also by price pressure from Chinese manufacturers.

Areva believes its technology is the lowest CSP (concentrated solar power) offering on the market, although that remains to be seen, because not much of any solar thermal technology has been developed at scale. Certainly, it uses the least amount of land. It claims it generates up to three times more peak power per hectare of land than competing solar technologies. This high energy density translates into lower costs, a smaller environmental footprint, and an ability to produce a simple, modular system that is easily scaled.

“I think there is space for both solar PV and solar thermal,” says Tom Bartolomei, senior vice president at Areva Solar. “Everyone recognises the improvement in PV in cost scales – as we enhance our skill sets in building these things, that’s where we will get better value per megawatt hour. That will take time.” He says installation costs for booster systems will likely come in around $1,500 to $2,000 per kilowatt, while those for standalone units will be between $3,000-$4,000/kW.

Cross posted from Peak Energy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The least Fortunate Island

My final wrap up of the Fukushima (fortunate island) Nuclear Power Plant, starting with the media driven “he said, she said” spat between two high profile campaigners.

The Guardian has published an article by Helen Caldicott as a rebuttal to George Monbiots earlier article. This stoush could go on for a while.

Central to Monbiots argument was this quote:

"In no sense did Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences or the New York Academy of Sciences commission this work; nor by its publication do we intend to independently validate the claims made in the translation or in the original publications cited in the work. The translated volume has not been peer reviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences, or by anyone else."

Which is very similar to the text available at the website of the Annals of the New York Academy of Science posted 4/28/2010:

The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences issue “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”, therefore, does not present new, unpublished work, nor is it a work commissioned by the New York Academy of Sciences. The expressed views of the authors, or by advocacy groups or individuals with specific opinions about the Annals Chernobyl volume, are their own. Although the New York Academy of Sciences believes it has a responsibility to provide open forums for discussion of scientific questions, the Academy has no intent to influence legislation by providing such forums. The Academy is committed to publishing content deemed scientifically valid by the general scientific community, from whom the Academy carefully monitors feedback.

What the top quote says is that it is only the TRANSLATED volume that has not been peer reviewed. This quote could be misread

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kjell Aleklett & Phil Hart - Peak Oil Presentation Videos

On 24th November last year, Beyond Zero Emissions and GAMUT (Australasian Centre for the Governance and Management of Urban Transport) held a peak oil evening with the visiting Professor and ASPO President Kjell Aleklett. I also spoke following Kjell, concentrating more on Australian factors and cultural aspects of peak oil since Prof Aleklett had already overwhelmed the audience with the technical aspects!

Videos of the presentations were made available online earlier in the year:

Resource Depletion, The tie that binds Peak Oil and Food Security - Professor Kjell Aleklett from Plug-In TV on Vimeo.

Peak Oil, A Time for Cultural Change - Phil Hart from Plug-In TV on Vimeo.

Kjell Aleklett and Phil Hart - Q&A session from Plug-In TV on Vimeo.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

When The General Electric Talks

General Electric has sniffed the traces of Iodine 131 in the air and noted that the public doesn't like it. "Right" or "wrong" from a purely technical nuclear energy point of view GE thinks that a punt on solar, or a slice of renewables subsidies (?) might be a better option. That or its PR designed to distract from their old designs at Fukushima.
General Electric Announces Record Solar Efficiency, Plans To Build Largest U.S. Solar Factory
Reuters, April 8, 2011

General Electric (GE) has been reinventing itself as a green energy behemoth, beginning with a focus on wind energy, then the smart grid and more recently led lighting and solar. They've even developed an electric car charging station called the WattStation.

This morning they are announcing another big step along the path of its rapid push into the thin film solar market, taking direct aim at First Solar (FSLR). The push has been fueled by key acquisitions particularly of PrimeStar of which it acquired a minority stake in 2007, has had a majority stake since 2008, and today announced it has completed a full acquisition of the company. PrimeStar was developing the cadmium thin film solar panels which is the same technology First Solar is using.

GE is saying that its full sized thin film solar panel developed with PrimeStar has been independently certified to be the world's most efficient thin film solar panel at 12.8 percent aperture area efficiency. First Solar reported during its latest earnings report that it had reached 11.6 percent and that it expects to hit 12 percent within a few months. A 1 percent increase in efficiency results in a 10 percent reduction in energy cost, so the current spread isn't insignificant.

GE also announced that it will invest $600 million to build the largest solar panel production facility in the US. At full capacity the 400MW facility will produce enough panels each year to power 80,000 homes. The location of the plant is expected to be announced soon and it's great to see they will keep manufacturing in the US.

The good news for GE's solar business doesn't end there. They are also announcing more than 100MW in new orders for its thin film products which include the panels and inverters.

Fukushima No. 1 plant designed on 'trial-and-error' basis

Asahi Shimbun, 7 April 2011

While changes improved safety at the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant, overconfidence, complacency and high costs stymied such action at the now-crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant, according to people familiar with the situation.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Happiness and Power

One of the common assertions around is that no combination of renewables can power a consumerist society. This may be true. Its a testable hypothesis. But is that the point? Surely the question is are we happy? And in fact Economics is (or should be) about the study of happiness, not just the study of GDP growth (consumption), its just that among some punters GDP/capita is equated with happiness. The "invisible hand" will "lift all ships on a rising tide" (or some such). In the past few years research suggests that above a certain threshold, increases in GDP/capita have a negligible effect on perceptions or feelings of happiness.

The Economist had a little graph late last year displaying this very phenomena, although they couldn't help but change it to a form more aesthetically pleasing to them.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Garnauts Gambit

In late February Ross Garnaut began to release his update papers. At the time The Age reviewed the history of his previous gig under Kevin Rudds leadership. The contentious issue was (and remains) the level of compensation paid to fossil fuel generators. Garnaut's favoured position was… none. First the history.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Pontificating from a distance

There have been a few “I/my relatives are in Japan… and I’m/they’re not scared” type stories doing the rounds (one even became famous) but this one posted by The ABC had what I thought was a more human feel, focusing not on the technological aspects or the statistical minutiae of the likelihood of increased cancer. Truth is, normal average people don’t think like a nuclear technician lecturing the public about the irrationality of their fears.