Moving Out One by One as Australia Pursues Coal  

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The New York Times has a look at how the coal boom in Australia is devouring country towns (have there been any stories like this in the local press ? I've seen nothing similar) - Moving Out One by One as Australia Pursues Coal.

Glenn Beutel recalled that the phone call came, as it happened, just before the first anniversary of his mother’s funeral. A representative of the coal mining company New Hope Coal, which was seeking to expand its operations, asked whether he could drop by.

The next day, he listened to Mr. Beutel’s concerns about increased mining before turning to the visit’s real purpose. Was Mr. Beutel interested in selling his property?

“I told him it was part of my soul,” Mr. Beutel, 57, said softly. “He ran away.”

But over the next five years, officials of New Hope Coal would meet with Mr. Beutel’s neighbors, buying up their homes and land one by one. Some sold happily; others said they felt coerced. Either way, Mr. Beutel now finds himself the last homeowner here, this 120-year-old town vanishing rapidly around him, huge deposits of coal lying under him and lawyers for the coal company threatening to come down on him.

Even as Asian demand for Australia’s resources keeps surging, the fate of this small town has become a catalyst for pent-up anger over the coal industry’s push into populated and farming areas. It has also set off a larger debate in Australia, the world’s biggest exporter of coal, about mining’s costs and benefits to the country.

The Australian government last month proposed an overhaul of the taxes on resources, arguing that mining companies benefited disproportionately during the past decade’s commodities boom. The proposal, which would replace mining royalties paid to the government with a 40 percent “super profits” tax on corporate income above a still unspecified threshold, has drawn a fierce response from mining companies.

The companies’ criticism helped sink the approval ratings of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who was forced to resign last week by his own party. His successor, Julia Gillard, has backed the tax but hinted at a compromise with mining officials, whose advertising campaign convinced many voters that the tax would kill jobs and hurt the economy. ...

The government has said that revenues from the new tax would create a more balanced economy by lowering the overall corporate tax rate, helping small businesses, increasing pensions and investing in infrastructure.

Supporters of the tax, including farmers, say mining hurts other industries. By offering higher wages, it makes labor scarcer and pricier for others; farmers fear that new mines will pollute sources of water and destroy agricultural land.

Until a few years ago, most of the coal mining in Queensland took place in the sparsely populated north or center of the state. But because demand from China, and in the future, India, is expected to keep rising, companies are exploring for coal reserves or drawing up plans to expand existing mining operations.

Drew Hutton, an environmentalist who helped found the Green Party, said that after decades of indifference, Australians were now starting to worry about coal’s effects on the environment and their food supply. The fate of Acland and Mr. Beutel, whose situation has received a lot of coverage in the local news media, has also put a face on opposition to King Coal, Mr. Hutton, 63, said.

Power From Thin Air  

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The Economist has a look at wireless energy distribution and efforts to power devices using ambient energy - Power from thin air (there is also an accompanying video).

ANYONE whose mobile phone has ever run out of juice—which means, these days, more than half the world’s population—will like the idea of getting electrical power out of the air. The notion is far from new. A little over a century ago, the inventor Nikola Tesla drew up ambitious plans to transmit electrical power without wires. He carried out a series of experiments in which electric lights were illuminated via electrostatic induction, by connecting them to metal sheets suspended in a strong electric field produced by a distant transmitter. In 1898 he proposed a “world system” of giant towers that would form both a global wireless communications network and a means of delivering electricity over large areas without wires.

The construction of the first such tower, the Wardenclyffe Tower, on Long Island, began in 1901. Tesla’s backers included the financier J.P. Morgan, who invested $150,000. But before the tower was completed, Morgan and the other backers pulled out. They worried that the delivery of electricity through the air could not be metered, and there would be nothing to stop people from helping themselves.

But has Tesla had the last laugh after all? Today several firms—including Fulton Innovation, eCoupled, WiTricity and Powercast—are pursuing various technologies that deliver electrical power without wires (though over shorter distances than Tesla had in mind). WiTricity has demonstrated the ability to send enough energy across a room to run a flat-screen television using its approach, called “resonant magnetic coupling”. This is different from Tesla’s approach, but the firm’s founders have acknowledged his pioneering work.

In the long run, however, it may be Morgan who is vindicated, as researchers find ways to pull power out of the air without paying for it—a technique known as “energy scavenging” or “energy harvesting”. It is already possible to power small electronic devices, such as wireless sensors installed in buildings and industrial machinery, using a dedicated microwave transmitter nearby. The sensors pick up the microwaves with an antenna and convert the signal into electrical energy. But as power requirements drop and energy-scavenging technology improves, it will become increasingly practical to power these and other devices using just “ambient” energy—the sea of existing radio waves produced by television, radio and mobile-phone transmitters. ...

Ambient radio waves have largely been ignored as a potential power source until recently, because the power of a broadcast radio signal rapidly decreases with distance. That is not to say that radio waves cannot pack a punch from a distance. Advocates of “satellite solar power”, for example, dream of beaming gigawatts of solar power down to Earth from geostationary satellites more than 35,000km up. The same approach has been used in ground-based experiments to beam one kilowatt of power over a distance of several kilometres, notes Peter Fisher, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But ambient radiation is much weaker.

One way to address this problem is to harvest radiation from multiple sources. Last year Nokia, the world’s largest handset-maker, raised eyebrows with research showing that this approach could scavenge nearly 100 times as much energy as Dr Smith’s approach. Markku Rouvala, an engineer at Nokia Research Centre in Cambridge, England, harvested as much as 5 milliwatts of power using a “wide band” receiver capable of mopping up radio signals between 500MHz and 10GHz—including radio, TV, Wi-Fi and mobile-phone signals—from nearby transmitters. It takes at least 20 milliwatts to keep a mobile phone operating in standby mode, but Nokia hopes that power scavenging might eventually deliver 50 milliwatts, enough to trickle-charge a phone.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, RCA showed off a gadget designed to harvest energy from nearby Wi-Fi transmitters, which can then be used to recharge a mobile phone. RCA says it plans to launch the device, dubbed Airnergy, later this year.

The first devices to be powered entirely by ambient energy are likely to be sensors, calculators and clocks. But the hope is that music-players, e-readers and mobile phones will eventually follow, says Dr Smith. There are other means of harvesting ambient energy, from vibrations, movement or heat. But the attraction of radio waves is that they are pretty much everywhere. It’s like recycling energy, says Dr Fisher. “It’s energy that’s around, and is not doing anything else,” he says.

How Storage Can Help Get Rid of Peaker Plants  

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Greentech Media has an article on how energy storage can reduce spending on costly peaking plants - "Storage is cheaper, cleaner and ready to be implemented" - How Storage Can Help Get Rid of Peaker Plants (hat tip Bob).

Energy storage systems store energy for use at a later time, when electric power is most needed and most valuable, such as on hot summer afternoons. Energy storage helps integrate intermittent renewable sources, can supplant the most polluting power plants, and enhances grid reliability. There are many ways to store energy, including chemically (batteries), mechanically (flywheels) and thermally (ice).

Due to insufficient energy storage for the electric power grid, utilities must size their generation and transmission systems to deliver the full amount of electricity that consumers demand (or might demand) at any given moment of the year. Owning and operating sufficient assets to serve peak demand - only 5% or less of the hours per year - results in increased emissions and costs to electricity customers.

Energy storage has the unique potential to transform the electric utility industry by improving existing asset utilization, avoiding the building of new power plants, and avoiding or deferring upgrades to existing transmission and distribution networks. Scientists, utility CEO's, and policy makers frequently refer to energy storage as the "Holy Grail" for the electric power industry. The California State Senate will hold hearings on AB 2514, an assembly bill to to promote energy storage in the state. A complete white paper from Strategen can be found here.

More recently, energy storage has achieved recognition as a foundational element of the Smart Grid, and the technical community speaks of energy storage as a key enabling resource to facilitate the transition away from a fossil fuel dominated generation fleet to one that is cleaner, more reliant on renewables, "smarter," and able to accelerate the electrification of the transportation sector. The following analysis demonstrates the value of energy storage as an alternative to natural gas-fired peaker plants.

Energy Storage Technologies Today Can Deliver On-Peak Electricity at a Lower Cost than Gas-Fired Peakers

To help illustrate the cost effectiveness of energy storage, we compared the cost of a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity generated on-peak by a gas-fired peaker, with the cost of a kWh of electricity provided on-peak by an energy storage system. For simplicity, this comparison selected a commercially available energy storage technology - lead-acid batteries - and used the cost and specifications similar to the large lead-acid energy storage peaking facility shown below. Located in Chino, California, this 10 megawatt (MW), 4 hour duration system successfully demonstrated energy storage's ability to manage peak load from 1988 through 1996.

Using assumptions taken from a recent California Energy Commission (CEC) study, our analysis found a levelized cost of generation for the simple cycle gas-fired peaker plant of $492 per megawatt-hour (MWh), or $203 per kilowatt-year (kW-yr). In comparison, the energy storage plant demonstrated significant savings, with a levelized cost of generation of $377 per MWh ($155/kw-yr).

Energy Storage Has the Ability to Deliver More than Peaker Substitution Value to the Grid

Energy storage provides multiple value streams above and beyond peaker substitution. For example, by their nature, gas-fired peaker plants cannot be economically sized below 50 MW and therefore are not easily installed in a distributed footprint. Energy storage systems do not have this limitation, opening up the potential for many technical and economical benefits available to distributed energy resources such as reduction of transmission and distribution losses. Additional benefits include electric energy time-shift, voltage support, electric supply reserve capacity, transmission congestion relief, and frequency regulation.

Enter California’s Smart Grid Task Force  

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Earth2Tech has a post on efforts to educate Californian consumers about the benefits of smart grids (in the wake of problematic smart meter rollouts in the state) - Enter California’s Smart Grid Task Force.

You know a problem has gotten out of hand when there’s a task force created to address it. On Friday utility PG&E, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, and the city of San Jose announced the creation of the “Smart Grid Task Force” that will tackle an area that has been sorely needed for the smart grid: public education.

The group, which will focus specifically on California, will start out by creating a research report around the economic impacts of the smart grid and members of the force include Oracle, Cisco, Nanosolar, Control4, Coulomb Technologies, Silver Spring Networks and OPower. The task force isn’t the first group like this, and earlier this year 10 companies including IBM, Control4, the Gridwise Alliance, and General Electric, launched the Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative (SGCC), which focuses on consumer education across the U.S.

If you haven’t been following the issue over the consumer backlash and the smart grid in California, here’s a refresher: PG&E didn’t do a very good job of educating consumers on the smart meters being installed at their homes, and there were a lot of complaints, including a lawsuit in Bakersfield, Calif. In (an albeit delayed) response, PG&E publicly apologized for its strategy, which looked at its smart meter roll-out solely as an infrastructure play, and has since then been beefing up its consumer outreach and call centers. This task force is clearly part of that effort.

Will the task force work, and smooth over the smart meter flap? Well, more information for consumers is always better and smarter research can help with better decision-making. I think PG&E has also gotten some pressure from the fledging smart meter industry to expand public education and do it in a group format via well-known consumer brands that score higher on affinity with consumers than a utility brand.

If the backlash over the smart meters in California escalates further it could seriously jeopardize the industry nationally. I think Maryland’s public regulator’s denial of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co’s smart grid project request, which would have deployed 2 million smart meters for all of its customers, was partly influenced by the California backlash. Recently San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrera rehashed the issue, and asked California’s energy regulators to stop PG&E from installing any more smart meters until a third party investigation into the accuracy of the meters has been completed. I don’t think that request wil go anywhere.

'Biggest thing in farming for 10,000 years on horizon'  

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The Register has an article on interest in increasing the yield of perennial crops - 'Biggest thing in farming for 10,000 years on horizon'.

Agro-boffins in America say that mankind could be on the verge of the "biggest agricultural breakthrough in 10,000 years", as researchers close in on "perennial grains".

At the moment, most grain grown around the world has to be replanted after every crop. Farming so-called "annual" grain of this sort consumes a lot of resources and is hard on the land, which is especially worrying as half the world's population lives off farmland which could easily be rendered unproductive by intensive annual grain harvests.

"People talk about food security," says soil science prof John Reganold. "That's only half the issue. We need to talk about both food and ecosystem security."

Reganold and his fellow dirtboffin Jerry Glover argue that perennial grain - in addition to not needing replanting, so saving on passes of farm machinery over the ground, fuel etc - would have a much deeper and more powerful root system than annuals, rather like a well-kept lawn. This would mean that it used water much more efficiently; and water is often a major issue in agriculture and its impact on its surroundings.

Other benefits of a deep perennial root system beneath farmers' fields would be less erosion and better carbon sequestration. Perhaps most tellingly of all, such a field might need as little as 3 per cent of the fertilisers required by annuals. Not only are nitrate fertilisers energy-intensive to make, they are also prone to washing out of fields to pollute water supplies, kill habitats and cause other eco mischief. Perennial fields would also require much less in the way of herbicides to control weeds.

At the moment, perennial grains capable of matching annuals don't exist. However, Reganold and Glover argue that they can be bred with sufficient effort: it's purely a matter of resources put into research. It's perhaps worth noting that there's not as much obvious revenue in perennials for major agro firms as there is in some kinds of annuals - there would be no continual requirement for new seed.

The two researchers, and many colleagues in the business, argue that with enough development cash perennial grain could be available in less than 20 years - representing, in their view, as great a step forward in food production as the original shift by the human race out of hunter-gathering and into farming in the first place.

EnergyAustralia Wins $100M Smart Grid, Smart City Project  

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Greentech Media has an article on a new smart grid demonstration project in Newcastle NSW - EnergyAustralia Wins $100M Smart Grid, Smart City Project. The Newcastle Herald has more.

The Australian government has announced that the country's largest energy supplier and retailer, EnergyAustralia, will lead a $100 million "Smart Grid, Smart City" project in the state of New South Wales that will begin later this year. The project will be a little bit of everything when it comes to smart grid, from substation automation and charging stations for electric vehicles to home area networks and time-of-use pricing.

The focus for this demonstration will not be world-renowned Sydney, but rather the small city of Newcastle, about 100 miles to the north. The consortium led by EnergyAustralia also includes IBM Australia, AGL, GE Energy, TransGrid, Newcastle City Council and the NSW Government.

Although Newcastle is the center point of the project, there will also be trials in Scone, downtown Sydney, Ku-ring-gai and Newington. There will be a total of 50,000 smart meters and about 15,000 homes that will be given in-home energy management systems to track electricity, water use and CO2 emissions.

"These homes will test remote control of appliances, including air conditioners, and innovative pricing packages to help reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions," said George Maltabarow, Managing Director for EnergyAustralia. "Winning the Smart Grid, Smart Cities bid is an exciting opportunity to expand our smart grid rollout even further, at a much faster rate and on a greater scale than we've seen."

About 200,000 EnergyAustralia customers with first-generation smart meters already have time-of-use pricing.

Some homes in the project will also have battery storage trials to help power local streets and there will also be battery storage trials and EV charging stations in Sydney's downtown business district.

The trial will also include updates to the grid itself, including 12,000 smart meter sensors that will allow for faster fault detection and self-correction in some places. EnergyAustralia is using 4G for a communications network on the grid; however, the project also will look at opportunities to use broadband for smart grid projects as part of the country's planned National Broadband Network, which will bring fiber optic cable to 90 percent of homes Down Under.

But this will not be broadband's first foray into smart grid in Australia. GridNet, which champions WiMax, and its partner General Electric signed a deal last year with the Australian utility SP AusNet. The utility plans to use the next-generation wireless technology to link about 680,000 household customers with smart meters. Future uses of that grid could include linking distribution grid sensors and controls, rooftop solar panel monitors, "smart charging" systems for plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles, and a host of other smart grid applications.

The country also already has one of the first energy and communications bundling project (at least known to Greentech Media) down in its capital territory, ACT.

While any one of these trials on its own is not novel, the convergence of metering, grid automation and EV integration and battery trials is more than many other utilities are taking on all at once (although the impending arrival of EVs later this year may force them to do so).

Techrati reports that smart meter penetration across the Asia-Pacific region is expected to reach 25% over the next 5 years - Smart meter penetration in Asia-Pacific will reach 25 percent by 2015, says Berg Insight.
According to a new research report from the analyst firm Berg Insight, the installed base of smart electricity meters in Asia-Pacific will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 91.0 percent between 2009 and 2015, to reach 116.5 million at the end of the period. ...

“Asia-Pacific is the fastest growing market for smart metering solutions in the world”, said Tobias Ryberg, Senior Analyst, Berg Insight. “South Korea has begun the construction of a nationwide smart grid where intelligent energy meters constitute the basic building-block. Japan’s two largest power utilities have announced plans for full-scale smart meter deployments in this decade and China is preparing a nationwide rollout within three to five years.” Altogether the three countries have an installed base of more than 360 million electricity meters today, with an annual growth rate of 3–5 percent.

Australia and New Zealand commenced with massive installations of smart meters at the end of the last decade. Victoria will become the first Australian state to achieve full penetration by 2013. Mandatory rollouts are also being considered in other territories such as New South Wales. In New Zealand, the adoption of smart metering is driven by the energy industry. While many other countries have introduced regulations for the new technology, New Zealand’s government has decided not to interfere with the process.

Feed In Tariffs: The German Experiment  

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Technology Review has a look at Germany's feed in tariff program - The German Experiment.

A decade ago, Germany launched a renewable-­energy plan on an unprecedented scale. Its parliament, the Bundestag, enacted a law obligating the nation's electric utilities to purchase green power at sky-high rates--as much as 60 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar--under fixed contracts lasting up to 20 years. (German market prices for electricity, largely produced by coal and nuclear plants, were about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.) The idea behind this "feed-in tariff" was that anyone would be able to build a renewable-power plant--or install rooftop solar panels--and be guaranteed predictable profits by feeding energy into the grid, where utilities would buy it at premium prices. The higher costs would be passed on as monthly surcharges to ratepayers, spread out among all homes and businesses in a country of about 80 million people. Fossil and nuclear fuels amount to "global pyromania," said Hermann Scheer, the German politician who championed the policy. "Renewable energy is the fire extinguisher." ...

But why even bother with feed-in tariffs? Many economists favor either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system in which electricity plants buy permits to burn fossil fuel. "It would be better to tax brown power than subsidize green power," says Borenstein. Coal is the biggest carbon emitter among all energy sources, and it currently accounts for about half the electricity produced in the United States as well as in Germany. Phasing out coal should be the main goal, and pursuing that goal by putting a price on carbon, he says, allows the market to decide which renewable sources are most cost-effective. That's more efficient than letting the government set prices.

However, neither cap-and-trade nor a direct tax may be politically feasible in the United States. So would a national feed-in tariff be an acceptable alternative? Or would it also be politically doomed, since it, too, would raise electricity prices? To make a case for it, politicians would need to convince the American public that renewable power is worth it, pointing to Germany as the example. Indeed, the German experiment does show that a large industrial society can reach ambitious goals for scaling up new sources of clean electricity, with users paying the way. Germany expects to produce most of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Meanwhile, the United States produces only about 7 percent of its electricity from such sources, most of that from long-standing hydroelectric plants.

The real significance of the German plan, though, may not be as a model for other countries but as a source of permanent change in the world's energy economy. In this sense, Germany can be compared to early adopters of new gadgets, who often pay outrageous prices even though they know that others will get improved technology for much less a few years later.

Consider the changes in the market for wind power. By 2006, Germany had by far the largest wind-power base in the world, with 20.6 gigawatts of capacity. The massive scale brought the cost down, and wind began approaching grid parity in many parts of the world. In 2009, the United States and China were able to surpass Germany in capacity, but at far more attractive prices.

Thanks in part to the Germans, the same thing now appears to be happening in solar, with prices of photovoltaic panels plunging 40 percent last year alone. Yes, the critics are right that Germany's spending was wildly inefficient. But what Germany did was prime the global markets, showing that renewable technologies can be a big business worthy of investment. As a result, the United States may not need to copy Germany's experiment to reap the rewards.

First Solar Looks Past Success To Even Brighter Future  

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The WSJ has an update on the progress of First Solar - First Solar Looks Past Success To Even Brighter Future

First Solar Inc. is the world's largest solar-panel maker. Now, it wants to compete with fossil-fuel power generators.

In addition to making flat, glass panels that convert sunlight into electricity, First Solar has built some of the largest solar farms in the U.S. including a 21-megawatt facility in Blythe, Calif., owned by NRG Energy Inc. and a 10-megawatt plant in Boulder City, Nev., owned by Sempra Energy.

First Solar plans to build several more solar farms with a project-development business assembled over the last year through its acquisitions of NextLight Renewable Power LLC in April, a unit of Edison International, in January and part of privately held OptiSolar last year.

The move is a risky one for the Tempe, Ariz.-based company. First Solar hopes it can leverage its expertise in solar panels to build solar farms capable of taking on gas-fired power plants. The goal: to greatly expand solar power's share of the U.S. power market.

With 2,200 megawatts of solar farms under development, First Solar hopes it can demonstrate that solar power is a reliable, reasonably priced source of valuable daytime electricity. For investors, the company aims to prove that solar farms can be lucrative.

"Our major goal is to provide renewable power that's sustainable over time," said First Solar Chief Executive Rob Gillette in an interview earlier this month. In turn, that will "drive the costs of our technology down to where it is competing with fossil-fuel peaking resources," he added.

This year, the company will sell most of its panels into the red-hot solar-power market. Global installations of solar panels are expected to nearly double this year to about 13 gigawatts, due to strong demand in Germany and other European countries, where developers are rushing to nail down projects ahead of government plans to cut subsidies later this year.

Meanwhile, demand in the U.S., Japan, China and other countries has been steadily rising. In addition to clean energy requirements and improving economies, falling solar-panel prices have generated greater interest.

With its low-cost thin-film manufacturing technology, First Solar is a formidable competitor in a market increasingly populated by low-priced Chinese manufacturers. The company isn't standing still. First Solar is in the process of expanding production of solar panels by nearly 60% to 2,100 megawatts by 2012, while working to cut manufacturing costs and improve its product. ...

Analysts predict U.S. solar-power demand could double this year to nearly 1,000 megawatts and continue growing over the next several years. Much of that growth will be in California and other Western states where state renewable-energy requirements and strong solar resources have created a springboard for the solar market.

Flicking Australia's electric car switch  

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The Business Spectator has an article on a report into the future of Australia's car industry - Flicking Australia's electric car switch.

Australia's automotive industry, which has been struggling to keep up with emerging Asian markets for years, has finally come up with a plan that could go some way in making Australian-based manufactures more globally competitive.

A draft copy of the Automotive Australia 2020 (AA2020) project report obtained by Business Spectator has identified four long-term commercial opportunities for the car industry – electrification, gaseous fuels, lightweighting and data and communications.

In particular the report has identified electrification as the highest priority area if the Australian industry is to have an economic future in this global industry. The six applications in electrification are:

-- Development and manufacture of super-capacitors for electric cars

-- Design and local assembly of electric power electronic modules

-- High energy density batteries

-- Low-cost, robust, efficient electric motors/generators

-- Standard battery packs for large passenger vehicles

-- Development of a modular electric vehicle power train

The industry, which is valued at $7.5 billion, exports more than $3 billion in parts and vehicles and provides more than 50,000 jobs, is under intense pressure to innovate and change due to emerging Asian markets, competition from developing economies, the move towards new technologies and a global over-capacity.

This report, conducted under the auspices of the Cooperative Research Centre for Advanced Automotive Technology (AutoCRC) in partnership with the CSIRO and the Australian National University, and enjoying the support of the federal and Victorian governments as well as the Automotive Industry Innovation Council, is a strategic attempt to identify how the industry can remain competitive. It flows from one of the earlier initiatives of the Rudd government, the $6.2 billion New Car Plan for a Greener Future.

Jerry Brown aims to kick off clean energy revolution in California, again  

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Grist has a look at the Democrat's candidate for governor of California - Jerry Brown kicked off clean energy revolution in California once, aims to do it again.

Trivia questions for energy geeks: Which state approved the country's first energy-efficiency standards for appliances? The first green building codes? The first big wind farms? And who was governor when all those fine things happened?

The answer is California under Gov. Jerry Brown -- aka Governor Moonbeam -- who just happens to be running for the office again, some 30 years later. Last week, Brown, the Democratic nominee, unveiled a clean-energy plan to put far more solar panels on California's rooftops, in addition to appointing a renewable energy czar and strengthening those sexy appliance standards.

Of course, plenty of politicians make lofty promises about ushering in an energy transformation, to little or no result. Like the last eight presidents, for example. But there's good reason to take Brown seriously.

"He's done it before. And really if you look across the landscape in American political history, there's nobody else that can say that," said John Geesman, who was executive director of the California Energy Commission during part of Jerry Brown's first stint in the governor's mansion. "Nobody at all."

Solar's Great Leap Forward  

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Technology Review has an in-depth look at Chinese solar power company Suntech - Solar's Great Leap Forward.

To see the future of solar power, take an hour-long train ride inland from Shanghai and then a horn-blaring cab trek through the smog of Wuxi, a fast-growing Chinese city of five million. After winding through an industrial park, you will arrive at the front door of Suntech Power, a company that in the few years since its founding has become the world's largest maker of crystalline-silicon solar panels.

Solar panels cover the entire front face of the sprawling eight-story headquarters. Nearly 2,600 two-meter-long panels form the largest grid-connected solar façade in the world. Together with an array of 1,800 smaller panels on the roof, it can generate a megawatt of power on a sunny day. It's expected to produce over a million kilowatt-hours of electricity in a year--enough for more than 300 people in China.

In 2001, when Suntech was founded, all the solar-panel factories in China operating at full capacity would have taken six months to build enough panels for such a massive array. Suntech's first factory, which opened in 2002, cut that time to a little more than a month. Today, the company can make that many panels in less than one 12-hour shift. By the end of this year, the workers could be done by lunchtime. Suntech's production capacity has increased from 10 megawatts a year in 2002 to well over 1,000 megawatts today. Chinese solar manufacturing as a whole has increased its capacity from two megawatts in 2001 to over 4,000 megawatts.

That rapid growth, fueled by relentless cost cutting, has allowed Chinese manufacturers to overtake those in the United States, Japan, and Germany in less than a decade to become the biggest source of solar panels in the world. Worldwide, Chinese solar panels accounted for about half of total shipments in 2009. And that share is expected to grow this year. Of the 10 largest solar-panel manufacturers, half are based in China. In 2007, U.S.

The CTO of Suntech explains the company’s advanced solar technology, and takes you inside the manufacturing facilities. Video Credit: Kevin Bullis, Edited by JR Rost

manufacturers supplied 43 percent of the panels for a solar rebate program in California. The rest came almost exclusively from Japan and Germany; only 2 percent came from China. Now Chinese companies supply 42 percent of the panels, and the U.S. share has dropped to 15 percent according to an analysis by Nathaniel Bullard of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

In 2004, it cost about $3.20 per watt, on average, to make silicon solar panels. By now, according to solar-industry analysts at Photon Consulting in Boston, a Chinese manufacturer can make them for as little as $1.28 per watt, while the lowest-cost Western manufacturer will produce comparable technology for about $2.00 per watt. Not only has this cost advantage made Chinese manufacturers dominant in the industry, but it's also helped redefine the prospects for solar power, pushing it closer to what insiders call "grid parity"--the point where it is just as cheap as electricity on the power grid, most of which is generated with fossil fuels. "In about five years' time, we should be able to reach grid parity in at least 30 to 50 percent of the global market," says Zhengrong Shi, Suntech's founder and CEO, speaking from his spacious office looking out over the back of his company's massive solar façade.

Suntech's strategy so far has been to cut the cost per watt by reducing the expense of manufacturing solar panels. But reaching grid parity will also require increasing the efficiency of the panels so that each one produces more watts.

Under the leadership of Shi, who was a solar researcher before he became a businessman, the company has developed a new way to make solar panels; multi­crystalline modules made last year broke a 15-year-old record for efficiency in converting sunlight to electricity. A few months later, Suntech increased the efficiency mark yet again. And the company's lab has prototypes that promise even better results. If these advances pan out, it could finally clear the way for Shi's dream of affordable solar power.



Thunder Horse Falling Short ?  

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The Houston Chronicle has an article on disappointing oil production from BP's Thunder Horse field in the gulf of mexico - In deep, and falling far short.

BP has a big problem in the Gulf of Mexico — and it's not just the oil spill emanating from the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon.

At another platform in the Gulf — this one owned and operated by BP, unlike the Horizon — the problem is the opposite: Not enough oil is coming out.

Thunder Horse is the massive 60,000-ton, $1 billion production platform that BP, after some engineering difficulties, brought into operation in 2008. It was supposed to produce 250,000 barrels of oil a day.

It hasn't gotten close.

Production from Thunder Horse's main field reached a peak of about 172,000 barrels a day in January 2009, then began declining, falling to 61,000 barrels by December, according to data from the Minerals Management Service.

“The field has collapsed,” said Matthew Simmons, CEO of Houston-based Simmons & Company International, an investment banking firm specializing in energy. Simmons, author of Twilight in the Desert, has studied the Thunder Horse data along with production at most other deep-water wells.

BP's initial projections that Thunder Horse would produce 1 billion barrels of oil now seem unrealistic, Simmons said.

A BP spokesman said the company won't discuss Thunder Horse production until year's end. However, he noted that the main Thunder Horse field is undergoing maintenance, which will affect production numbers for the current quarter.

The maintenance, though, doesn't address the declining production that has been going on for more than a year. Geologists who have studied the data and posted their findings on the energy website The Oil Drum have estimated that Thunder Horse's production is falling by as much as 3 percent a month, even though additional wells have been brought on line.

It's also curious that BP would be slowing production at the field for maintenance after just 18 months, Simmons said.

While the energy industry talks up the potential of deep-water production, many of the wells drilled so far show rapid declines similar to those that appear to be happening at Thunder Horse. The wells are among the most expensive drilling projects in the world, and the exploration companies need rapid payouts to generate a return on their investment, Simmons said.

In all, he's tracked as many as 25 deep-water wells that show rapid declines. “That's been the pattern in all the deep-water fields,” he said. “We are at the twilight of offshore oil and gas.”

Because of the high drilling costs, companies typically drill few secondary, or appraisal, wells, which help determine the size of a reservoir.

At the same time, generating the return to cover the drilling expenses requires draining the reservoirs quickly, which shortens the life of recoverable oil. The result is a faster decline and smaller reservoirs than are initially announced.

Natural gas, the green choice ?  

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Chris Vernon at TOD Europe has a post asking what the impact of leaking gas pipelines is on global warming for gas fired power stations - Natural gas, the green choice?.

Natural gas is regarded as a relatively environmentally friendly way of generating electricity. Gas burns cleanly without many of the problems associated with coal. Coal is a chemically complex substance. When it is is burnt, it releases oxides of sulphur (SOx) and nitrogen (NOx), traces of mercury, selenium and arsenic, as well as particulates, and a non-combustible slag remains after burning. Coal mining is also a dirty and dangerous job. Coal emits considerably more CO2 than natural gas per unit energy. However, natural gas (CH4) itself is a potent greenhouse gas, and its release to the atmosphere without being burnt can quickly compensate for the CO2 advantage against coal. ...

If the natural gas leak rate is 3%, the global warming potential of a kilowatt-hour of electricity from gas is equivalent to coal.

So what are pipeline leak rates? A 1997 US Environmental Protection Agency report states US methane leak rates were 1.4 +/- 0.5 % in 1992. The largest source of leakage at that time was compressor components used in the processing, transmission, and storage, followed by the distribution network itself, with the small length of old cast iron pipes leaking disproportionately highly. The natural gas production process also contributes through millions of slowly leaking pneumatic control devices. A larger study carried out from 2005 by Brazil’s largest gas distributer Comgas suggests cast iron pipe leak rates double the EPA study.

A 1990 study for Greenpeace considered the UK distribution network then operated by British Gas. Greenpeace estimated low, medium and high scenario leakage rates of 1.9%, 5.3% and 10.8% respectively. This was in contrast to the 1% claimed by British Gas at the time. The authors were confident leakage rates were above 1.9%. These figures are likely obsolete today as there still existed a large amount of pre-1970 cast iron pipe work, much of it since replaced. In 1990 only 39% of the UK mains and 74% of the service pipes were plastic.

The 1.4% figure is also old, and only refers to the US, but it is a significant magnitude, it represents a 70% increase in global warming potential compared to the CO2 alone and halves the CO2 advantage gas has over coal based on the 360 and 890 g/kWh figures above.

Whilst these figures do not tip gas beyond coal, they halve its advantage. They are also only national. For the US this is quite understandable, but for the UK and Europe, the gas system is changing. Could leak rates become important as natural gas supply routes become longer? As Europe increases its reliance on Russia, as previously stranded gas is brought to market through longer pipelines than before, as a larger number of smaller deposits are exploited and as existing infrastructure ages, it seems likely that leak rates will increase. We often hear about struggles in the former Soviet states related to gas – is the leak rate there one percent or five? Is it economically feasible for the pipeline operator to make investments to stem the last percentage point of a system's leaks?

Is it possible that a ‘green’ gas power station in the UK is making a greater contribution to global warming than one burning coal?

The Nuclear Power Resurgence: How Safe Are the New Reactors?  

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Yale Environment 360 has a look at safety concerns about next generation nuclear reactors - The Nuclear Power Resurgence: How Safe Are the New Reactors?. We've seen BP's oil spill exceed that of the Exxon Valdez - how long until the nuclear industry breaks the records of Chernobyl and 3 Mile Island ?

In 2007, the first application to build a new reactor in the United States in more than three decades was filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). By the end of that year, four more applications had landed at the agency. In 2008, 12 additional applications arrived, with one more filed in 2009. Nuclear backers proclaimed a “renaissance” underway.

The NRC, which over the years had lost personnel because of a shortage of work, geared up, hiring 1,000 new staffers to handle the licensing requests. ... But how safe will this new generation of nuclear power plants be in comparison to the existing fleet of 104 plants that currently generate 20 percent of the nation’s electricity? ...

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, all containment structures on new nuclear plant designs in the U.S. have been re-engineered to withstand the direct impact of a jetliner. This does not mean, however, that new containment designs are foolproof. The containment structure on a popular Westinghouse design, which seven utilities are now considering building, has been upgraded, but the NRC determined it probably won’t withstand a severe earthquake.

It’s also worth noting that the NRC does not require the new plants to be any safer than existing ones. Rather, it only requires the plants to “provide the same degree of protection” as the current generation of reactors.

The new reactors remain a work in progress. Even without knowing exactly what the finished reactors will look like — or cost — some utilities have already made their choices, spurred on by promises of federal subsidies and political pressure to cut carbon emissions. In a speech to industry leaders in May, Nuclear Energy Institute CEO Marvin Fertel said that the construction of nuclear reactors to provide additional power and to replace older plants — U.S. reactors are limited to 60 years of operation — means that 187 new nuclear power plants must be built by 2050.

Many outside the industry believe that figure is unrealistically high. ...

Will this new generation of reactors be safer than the current nuclear plants? Ask that of the industry’s Russ Bell and he chooses his words carefully, because to imply that the new reactors are “safer” than the old ones infers that the existing plants are less safe. “We think all our plants are safe,” he says.

The industry has performed complex mathematical analyses called probabilistic risk assessments to measure the likelihood of a serious accident, says Bell. “When you run the numbers on the newer designs, as you’d expect, the chance of a damaged core or release of radiation accident is much, much lower than the current fleet,” he says. “But the numbers are very low for all the plants.”

The analysis is limited, however. Computed risks for new reactors are lower than for current designs “when only internal events are considered,” according to a 2009 report that the Nuclear Energy Institute wrote for the NRC. (That includes fires or pipe breaks, for example.) But when risks of damage caused by external events — earthquakes, for example — are factored in, the new reactors are no safer than older reactors. In addition, because utilities have no operating experience with the new reactors, the probable risk assessments are purely theoretical and not as reliable as years of actual operating data from existing plants.

Large oil spills are old news in the Niger Delta  

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The Age has an article on oil spills in Nigeria - Large oil spills are old news in the Niger Delta.

BIG oil spills are no longer news in the Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface. This once-verdant area has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates. The oil pours out nearly every week, and some swamps are lifeless.

Perhaps no place on earth has been as battered by oil, experts say, leaving residents here astonished at the non-stop attention paid to the gusher half a world away in the Gulf of Mexico. It was only a few weeks ago, they say, that a burst pipe, belonging to Shell, was finally shut after flowing for two months. Now nothing living moves in a black-and-brown world once teeming with shrimp and crab.

Not far away, there is still black crude on Gio Creek from an April spill, and just across the state line in Akwa Ibom the fishermen curse their oil-blackened nets, doubly useless in a barren sea buffeted by a spill from an offshore Exxon Mobil pipe in May that lasted for weeks.

The oil spews from rusted and ageing pipes, unchecked by what analysts say is ineffectual or collusive regulation, and abetted by deficient maintenance and sabotage. In the face of this black tide is an infrequent protest - soldiers guarding an Exxon Mobil facility beat women who were demonstrating last month, according to witnesses - but mostly resentful resignation.

Small children swim in the polluted estuary here, fishermen take their skiffs out ever further - ''There's nothing we can catch here,'' said Pius Doron, perched anxiously over his boat - and market women trudge through oily streams.

''There is Shell oil on my body,'' said Hannah Baage, emerging from Gio Creek with a machete to cut the cassava stalks balanced on her head.

That the Gulf of Mexico disaster has transfixed a country and president they so admire is a matter of wonder for people here, living among the palm-fringed estuaries in conditions as abject as any in Nigeria, according to the United Nations. Although their region contributes nearly 80 per cent of the government's revenue, they have hardly benefited from it; life expectancy is the lowest in Nigeria.

''President Obama is worried about that one,'' Claytus Kanyie, a local official, said of the Gulf spill, standing among dead mangroves in the soft oily muck outside Bodo. ''Nobody is worried about this one.''

In the distance, smoke rose from what Mr Kanyie and environmental activists said was an illegal refining business run by local oil thieves and protected, they said, by Nigerian security forces.

The Niger Delta has suddenly become a cautionary tale for the US. As many as 546 million gallons of oil spilled into the Niger Delta over the past five decades, or nearly 11 million gallons a year, a team of experts for the Nigerian government and international and local environmental groups concluded in a 2006 report. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 dumped an estimated 10.8 million gallons of oil into the waters off Alaska.

The spills here are all the more devastating because this ecologically sensitive wetland region, the source of 10 per cent of US oil imports, has most of Africa's mangroves and, like the Louisiana coast, has fed the interior for generations with its abundance of fish and crops.

Can fish fry oil save London from impending drought ?  

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MNN has a post on a new desalination plant for London that is to be fuelled with recycled grease from restaurants - Can fish fry oil save London from impending drought?.

Many of you will be surprised to learn that dark and rainy London is in the midst of a serious drought, and now the city is hoping to hedge dwindling water supplies with a new desalination plant.

Initially fought by environmentalists in England, the Thames Gateway Water Treatment Works was officially opened this month in London's Beckton district, along with assurances that it will be the most energy-efficient to date. The plant will use tidal river water with an 85 percent conversion to drinking water and it will run on a cheap and renewable fuel found in abundance in London — fish fry oil.

The plant will capture water at the confluence of the river and the sea. This greatly reduces the amount of energy required to extract salts thus making the water potable. Desalination plants are typically immense energy hogs, which caused climate sensitive Londoners to react negatively when the plant was announced three years ago.

So the city got creative with the plant and created a program to collect fish fry oil from around the city to power the plant. It's unlikely the waste oil will be sufficient to keep the plant running full tilt, but it will help reduce the carbon impact of such a massive water treatment facility.

At its peak the plant would be able to deliver 140 million liters of water — enough to supply 400,000 homes. Record water shortages in the summers of 2005 and 2006, which many attribute to climate change, shocked the city into action. And despite its environmental impact on the city, many Londoners are relieved that clean drinking water is now at the ready.

EU sees solar power imported from Sahara in 5 yrs  

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Reuters has a report claiming the first solar thermal power from North Africa may be flowing into Europe within 5 years (as part of the implementation of the DESERTEC proposal) - EU sees solar power imported from Sahara in 5 yrs.

Europe will import its first solar-generated electricity from North Africa within the next five years, European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said in an interview on Sunday.

The European Union is backing projects to turn the plentiful sunlight in the Sahara desert into electricity for power-hungry Europe, a scheme it hopes will help meet its target of deriving 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources in 2020.

"I think some models starting in the next 5 years will bring some hundreds of megawatts to the European market," Oettinger told Reuters after a meeting with energy ministers from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

He said those initial volumes would come from small pilot projects, but the amount of electricity would go up into the thousands of megawatts as projects including the 400 billion euro Desertec solar scheme come on stream.

"Desertec as a whole is a vision for the next 20 to 40 years with investment of hundreds of billions of euros," said Oettinger. "To integrate a bigger percentage of renewables, solar and wind, needs time."

The EU is backing the construction of new electricity cables, known as inter-connectors, under the Mediterranean Sea to carry this renewable energy from North Africa to Europe.

Australian Renewable Energy target Increased to 20%  

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The Business Spectator has an article by Giles Parkinson on the government finally legislating an increase in the renewable energy target - Our renewables 'revolution' is not what it seems.

It has taken nearly three years, but the federal government finally has something to show for the climate and clean energy platform it took to the electorate in 2007.

The passage of amendments to the Renewable Energy Target after a series of last gasp negotiations with the opposition and the Greens (a sign of things to come, perhaps), means that billions of dollars of wind farm and other renewable investments should – in theory at least – now get the green light. It also means that Australia can now join the rest of the world and declare it has a renewable energy industry to call its own. It’s been a long time coming.

Having cut and run from an emissions trading scheme and blundered its way through the home insulation disaster, that would be a welcome development for the government, and paves the way for a host of photo opportunities for government ministers and wind turbines, solar panels and sugar mills.

But not so fast – one of the consequences of the government’s poorly conceived first attempt at the RET is that the market remains flooded by certificates issued firstly to solar hot water systems and then to rooftop solar panels.

The price of RECs remains below $40, way below the value necessary to support most wind farm developments, and some predict the market may remain flooded till 2014, because energy retailers have been stocking up while the price is cheap.

That means that power purchase agreements needed to finance big projects will be hard to come by, in the short time at least, and some developments will have to bide their time. Others, though, such as AGL’s $800 million Macarthur wind farm and up to $2 billion of other wind farm projects in coming years, will not be delayed, because AGL can use the RECS to satisfy its own obligations.

One of the great ironies of this piece of legislation is that it should make its way through parliament while the emissions trading scheme failed. After all, it prices saved emissions, at least on paper, at up to $65 a tonne, three times more than an ETS.

It’s the sort of maths that drives some companies, such as aspiring coal seam gas developers Origin and Santos, to the point of distraction. Both argue that they need a carbon price to make baseload power stations economically viable. There’s another $20 billion to $30 billion of investments in that pipeline.

And it seems that for every winner in a renewable energy scheme, there is a loser. Now it is the turn of the solar industry to lament the agreements that effectively restrain the growth of the industry. Austalia’s reliance on a single mechanism means its impossible to find the right balance.

Energy company AGL is happy with the news, fats tracking their proposed Macarthur wind plant - Renewable energy changes welcome: AGL.
AGL Energy Limited (AGL) plans to fast track its Macarthur wind farm project following changes to the Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme approved by the Senate on Wednesday. The government's changes provide greater investment certainty for the renewable industry, AGL said in a statement on Thursday. ...

The government's changes have split the RET into two, effectively creating two markets - one for large-scale industry and one for small-scale consumer technology including solar photovoltaic.

AGL managing director Michael Fraser said it would give industry the certainty to make long-term investment decisions to transform the nations energy infrastructure to meet the target of sourcing 20 per cent of the nations electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Breakthrough in Capturing Lost Energy in Solar Cells  

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IEEE Spectrum has an article on "Hot carrier" solar cells which could be twice as efficient as today's - Breakthrough in Capturing Lost Energy in Solar Cells.

Material chemists at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Minnesota say that according to their research, the efficiency of a solar cell may potentially be increased to more than 60 percent, up from what was thought to be a limit of about 30 percent. They report their findings in today’s edition of the journal Science.

From a cost standpoint, boosting efficiency is one of the keys to making electricity from solar cells competitive with fossil-fuel-derived power. “Imagine the practical applications” of a solar cell more than twice as efficient as today’s, says Xiaoyang Zhu, a chemist at the University of Texas. The work he and his colleagues have done, Zhu says, proves that formerly squandered energy “can be taken out and worked with.”

If a photon has about the same energy as the solar cell semiconductor’s band gap, it knocks an electron into the conduction band, where it can flow as current. However, some high-energy photons in sunlight exceed the band-gap energy of the cell. The ejected “hot” electron, however, quickly loses its excess energy, “cooling down” to the bottom of the conduction band within a picosecond. So far it has been impossible to retrieve the lost energy, according to Zhu.

But Zhu and his team discovered that the lost energy can be salvaged and transferred to an adjacent electron-conducting layer. According to their findings, energy transfer is not only possible but also occurs much faster than anyone expected, in less than 50 femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second).

Australian Companies told to get smart on power  

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The SMH has an article on a report from the Energy Efficiency Council on the benefits of business becoming more energy efficient - Companies told to get smart on power.

AUSTRALIA could meet most of its promised greenhouse gas cuts and save money along the way by using energy more intelligently, a report shows.

The nation lags behind all other developed countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said the Energy Efficiency Council, which commissioned the report.

The industry group - which represents hundreds of businesses including Philips, Origin and Szencorp - will outline a blueprint in Sydney today for a national energy efficiency scheme and an efficiency target that would partly compensate for the postponed federal emissions trading scheme.

It notes Australia's top 200 companies use almost twice as much power as all households combined and if they improved energy use by 1 per cent it would slash emissions and save more than $2 billion a year.

''Australia has had fairly expensive electricity but this has led to an 'excuse mentality' where we feel that nothing needs to be done,'' the council's chief executive, Rob Murray-Leach, said. ''If we found out we had the least productive workforce in the developed world then you would expect us to do something about. There's no reason why energy efficiency should be any different.'' ...

The report, which used data from electricity providers and agencies like the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, claimed the need to spend money on expanding electricity infrastructure would be made redundant if the network could be better tailored to meet demand.

''Australia has been missing out on a massive opportunity,'' the report said. ''Between 1973 and 1998 Australia's energy efficiency increased by just 0.7 per cent a year, compared to 1.6 per cent a year in most other developed countries.''

In NSW, power bills are expected to rise by about 42 per cent over the next three years, mostly to pay for more ''poles and wires'', but if the network companies invested 10 per cent of these funds into energy efficiency, the need for new infrastructure could be eliminated, the report claims.

The Dead Zone  

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I haven't done any Friday Night Fear Mongering in a while and amusing tinfoil has been pretty rare too - but I thought I'd throw in this one from Infowars about impending doom for the Gulf of Mexico and all who live near it (in a way these guys do a better job of putting things in perspective than BP and their PR agencies are capable of - things could be much worse !) - Methane and Martial Law in the Gulf of Mexico.

Earlier this week Reuters reported on a massive amount of methane discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. Texas A&M University oceanography professor John Kessler said methane gas levels in some areas are “astonishingly high.” Kessler recently returned from a 10-day research expedition near the BP oil gusher. Kessler’s team measured both surface and deep water within a 5-mile (8 kilometer) radius of BP’s destroyed wellhead. “There is an incredible amount of methane in there,” Kessler told reporters. He said the level may be as much as one million times the normal level.

In late May BP said methane makes up about 40 percent of the leaking crude by mass. In addition to methane, large mounts of toxic hydrogen sulfide, benzene and methylene chloride are leaking into the Gulf according to the EPA and others.

Lindsay Williams, a former Alaskan pipeline chaplain with high-level oil industry connections, told the Alex Jones Show on June 10 that deadly gases are indeed escaping from the breached wellhead.

Investigative journalist Wayne Madsen, writing for Oil Price, states that his sources inside the federal government, FEMA, and the US Army Corps of Engineers are dealing with a prospective “dead zone” created by the escaping methane within a 200 mile radius from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In addition, Madsen reports, Corexit 9500, the oil dispersant used by BP, is viewed by FEMA sources as mixing with evaporated water from the Gulf. This deadly mixture is then absorbed by rain clouds and produces toxic precipitation that threatens to continue killing marine and land animals, plant life, and humans within a 200-mile radius of the Deepwater Horizon disaster site in the Gulf.

The “dead zone” created by a combination of methane gas and Corexit toxic rain, Madsen continues, will ultimately result in the evacuation and long-term abandonment of cities and towns within the 200-mile radius of the oil gusher.

“Plans are being put in place for the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Mandeville, Hammond, Houma, Belle Chase, Chalmette, Slidell, Biloxi, Gulfport, Pensacola, Hattiesburg, Mobile, Bay Minette, Fort Walton Beach, Panama City, Crestview, and Pascagoula,” Madsen writes.

On June 13, SoCal Martial Law Alerts (SCMLA) predicted that Gulf states would be evacuated. “Greg Evensen, a retired Kansas Highway Patrolman, estimates that 30-40 million people would need to be evacuated away from the Gulf’s coastline (i.e. at least 200 miles inland),” SCMLA reported.
In order to accomplish this gargantuan feat, the federal government (through FEMA and other agencies) would most likely seek first to control and manage the transportation system and then operate relocation centers to manage evacuees. Toward this end, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has already declared the airspace over the oil spill site to be a no-fly zone until further notice. Various sources have indicated that local police, highway patrol, National Guard, US military and foreign troops may be involved in an operation to evacuate the Gulf Coast. In fact, the Governor of Louisiana has already requested evacuation assistance (i.e. National Guard) for his state from the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Madsen’s trusted sources now lend credence to the SCMLA report.

DK Matai reports that by some geologists’ estimates, the methane now escaping into the Gulf may have been part of a massive bubble trapped for thousands of years under the sea floor. “More than a year ago, geologists expressed alarm in regard to BP and Transocean putting their exploratory rig directly over this massive underground reservoir of methane. Warnings were raised before the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe that the area of seabed chosen might be unstable and inherently dangerous,” writes Matai.

Matai and others fear the methane — under intense pressure (experts estimate the pressure to be between 30,000 and 70,000 pounds per square inch) — may form a bubble that would then rupture the seabed and erupt with an explosion.

“The bubble is likely to explode upwards propelled by more than 50,000 psi of pressure, bursting through the cracks and fissures of the sea floor, fracturing and rupturing miles of ocean bottom with a single extreme explosion,” Matai explains. “If the toxic gas bubble explodes, it might simultaneously set off a tsunami traveling at a high speed of hundreds of miles per hour. Florida might be most exposed to the fury of a tsunami wave. The entire Gulf coastline would be vulnerable, if the tsunami is manifest. Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and southern region of Georgia might experience the effects of the tsunami according to some sources.”

Better Place Stress-Testing Its Battery Swap Tech  

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EcoGeek has a post on Better Place testing their battery swapping technology in Japan - Better Place Stress-Testing Its Battery Swap Tech.

Better Place has set up shop in Tokyo to stress test their battery swapping equipment. The pilot program will allow the start-up company to work out the kinks in the technology before opening their first battery swapping station in Israel.

A test swapping station is located in the Roppongi Hills section of Tokyo and it will service three electric cabs (all Nissan Dualis compact SUVs) from taxi company Nihon Kotsu's fleet. While Better Place's fully-operating swapping stations will accommodate many types of batteries, the 90-day pilot program will focus on just one battery and car type.

The testing will help the company to make the technology more efficient and ensure it can hold up to real-world demands.

The automated swapping station can switch out a battery for a new one in less than a minute.

Cleaning Up BP's Spill  

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Google Frees The Smart Grid Airwaves: What Else Is Up Its Sleeve ?  

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Cleantech.com has a look at Google's involvement in communicating smart grid data over "white space" TV spectrum - Google Frees The Smart Grid Airwaves: What Else Is Up Its Sleeve?

Divining Google’s intentions in the energy management world is a bit like guessing the identity of an individual in a portrait as each little section is revealed piece by piece. You get a chin here, an ear there, you begin to make out the jawline, and then, ah, there it is…

Between PowerMeter, the company’s wholesale energy trading license, and investments in a handful of cleantech startups such as high altitude wind-catcher Makani Power, I haven’t quite had my “aha” moment. However, we did, today, get one more piece of the puzzle.

It was announced that Google is working alongside Spectrum Bridge to help Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative & Telecommunications deploy an AMI system that makes use of unlicensed TV “white space” to send energy data. This white space spectrum was made available by the national analog-to-digital transition of broadcast television; the transmission of signals over these airwaves seems to be particularly effective in rural areas where topography can be a serious challenge to deploying certain wireless networks. ...

There is clearly an analogous, emerging Google theme in the energy space around open access to data that involves more than a pretty user interface for your utility bill. As the utility AMI world continues to fret over network technology decisions (i.e. private RF mesh or WiMax networks vs. public broadband networks), Google seems to be a very interested party. Much like its headfake on purchasing telecom spectrum was enough to ensure open access to a variety of devices, the company certainly seems to have a method to its madness. The team at the Googleplex has something up its sleeve in the energy world and it is well worth keeping our eyes on.

Kevin Rudd's Downfall  

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Somewhat to my surprise, Kevin Rudd didn't make it through a full term as Australian Prime Minister, being replaced yesterday by deputy Julia Gillard.

YouTube has some video of Rudd's reaction to his downfall.

If only he'd managed to get the CPRS through the Senate...

Monbiot On Dark Mountain  

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George Monbiot has a column in The Guardian rejecting the approach of the "dark mountain" folk - I share their despair, but I'm not quite ready to climb the Dark Mountain.

Those who defend economic growth often argue that only rich countries can afford to protect the environment. The bigger the economy, the more money will be available for stopping pollution, investing in new forms of energy, preserving wilderness. Only the wealthy can live sustainably.

Anyone who has watched the emerging horror in the Gulf of Mexico in the past few days has cause to doubt this. The world's richest country decided not to impose the rules that might have prevented the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, arguing that these would impede the pursuit of greater wealth. Economic growth, and the demand for oil that it propelled, drove companies to drill in difficult and risky places.

But we needn't rely on this event to dismiss the cornucopians' thesis as self-serving nonsense. A new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calculates deforestation rates between 2000 and 2005 in the countries with the largest areas of forest cover. The nation with the lowest rate was the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The nation with the highest, caused by a combination of logging and fire, was the United States. Loss of forest cover there (6% of its own forests in five years) was almost twice as fast as in Indonesia and 10 times as fast as in the DRC. Why? Because those poorer countries have less money to invest in opening up remote places and felling trees.

The wealthy nations are plundering not only their own resources. The environmental disasters caused by the oil industry in Ecuador and Nigeria are not driven by Ecuadorian or Nigerian demand, but by the thirst for oil in richer nations. Deforestation in Indonesia is driven by the rich world's demand for palm oil and timber, in Brazil by our hunger for timber and animal feed.

The Guardian's carbon calculator reveals that the UK has greatly underestimated the climate impacts of our consumption. The reason is that official figures don't count outsourced emissions: the greenhouse gases produced by other countries manufacturing goods for our markets. Another recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that the UK imports a net 253m tonnes of carbon dioxide, embodied in the goods it buys. When this is taken into account, we find that far from cutting emissions since 1990, as the last government claimed, we have increased them. Wealth wrecks the environment.

So the Dark Mountain Project, whose ideas are spreading rapidly through the environment movement, is worth examining. It contends that "capitalism has absorbed the greens". Instead of seeking to protect the natural world from the impact of humans, the project claims that environmentalists now work on "sustaining human civilisation at the comfort level which the world's rich people – us – feel is their right".

Today's greens, it charges, seek to sustain the culture that knackers the planet, demanding only that we replace old, polluting technologies with new ones – wind farms, solar arrays, wave machines – that wreck even more of the world's wild places. They have lost their feelings for nature, reducing the problem to an engineering challenge. They've forgotten that they are supposed to be defending the biosphere: instead they are trying to save industrial civilisation.

That task, Paul Kingsnorth – a co-founder of Dark Mountain – believes, is futile: "The civilisation we are a part of is hitting the buffers at full speed, and it is too late to stop it." Nor can we bargain with it, as "the economic system we rely upon cannot be tamed without collapsing, for it relies upon … growth in order to function". Instead of trying to reduce the impacts of our civilisation, we should "start thinking about how we are going to live through its fall, and what we can learn from its collapse … Our task is to negotiate the coming descent as best we can, whilst creating new myths which put humanity in its proper place".

Though a fair bit of this takes aim at my writing and the ideas I champion, I recognise the truth in it. Something has been lost along the way. Among the charts and tables and technofixes, in the desperate search for green solutions that can work politically and economically, we have tended to forget the love of nature that drew us into all this.

But I cannot make the leap that Dark Mountain demands. The first problem with its vision is that industrial civilisation is much more resilient than it proposes. In the opening essay of the movement's first book, to be published this week, John Michael Greer proposes that conventional oil supplies peaked in 2005, that gas will peak by 2030, and that coal will do so by 2040.

While I'm prepared to believe that oil supplies might decline in the next few years, his coal prediction is hogwash. Energy companies in the UK, as the latest ENDS report shows, are now beginning to deploy a technology that will greatly increase available reserves. Government figures suggest that underground coal gasification – injecting oxygen into coal seams and extracting the hydrogen and methane they release – can boost the UK's land-based coal reserves 70-fold; and it opens up even more under the seabed. There are vast untapped reserves of other fossil fuels – bitumen, oil shale, methane clathrates – that energy companies will turn to if the price is right.

Like all cultures, industrial civilisation will collapse at some point. Resource depletion and climate change are likely causes. But I don't believe it will happen soon: not in this century, perhaps not even in the next. If it continues to rely on economic growth, if it doesn't reduce its reliance on primary resources, our civilisation will tank the biosphere before it goes down. To sit back and wait for what the Dark Mountain people believe will be civilisation's imminent collapse, without trying to change the way it operates, is to conspire in the destruction of everything greens are supposed to value.

Nor do I accept their undiscriminating attack on industrial technologies. There is a world of difference between the impact of windfarms and the impact of mining tar sands or drilling for oil: the turbines might spoil the view but, as the latest disaster shows, the effects of oil seep into the planet's every pore. And unless environmentalists also seek to sustain the achievements of industrial civilisation – health, education, sanitation, nutrition – the field will be left to those who rightly wish to preserve them, but don't give a stuff about the impacts.

We can accept these benefits while rejecting perpetual growth. We can embrace engineering while rejecting many of the uses to which it is put. We can defend healthcare while attacking useless consumption. This approach is boring, unromantic, uncertain of success, but a lot less ugly than the alternatives.

In The Land Of Oil  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

The press Register has a great picture of the BP oil spill, as seen from underwater in an Alabama wildlife preserve - Lots of sharks, lots of oil seen off Bon Secour.

Kenya Starts Generation at New 35-Megawatt Geothermal Plant  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

Bloomberg has a report on the latest geothermal power plant in Kenya - Kenya Starts Generation at New 35-Megawatt Geothermal Plant.

Kenya Electricity Generating Co., the country’s largest power producer, started producing power today at a 35-megawatt geothermal power plant.

KenGen, as the state-owned company is known, will add a further 350 megawatts of geothermal capacity by 2013, Managing Director Eddy Njoroge said in an e-mailed statement.

“Our increased investment in geothermal power production is also in line with KenGen’s business strategy of reducing reliance on hydro power which is dependent on weather patterns, and to pursue green energy sources which are safe to the environment,” Njoroge said.

The new plant at Olkaria, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of Nairobi, was co-financed by the European Investment Bank, which provided $40.8 million, the International Development Association and the French Development Agency.

The three financiers have already pledged to provide funding for construction of another 280-megawatt power project in Olkaria.

Dear Mr. President: Please abuse your powers  

Posted by Big Gav in

Dan Gillmor has an article at Salon pointing out that the Obama administration isn't that different to the Bush administration when it comes to disdain for civil liberties - Dear Mr. President: Please abuse your powers.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld a law that can put you in jail for the "crime" of advocating lawful, nonviolent activity, if the government decides that your advocacy is somehow helping a group the government declares is engaging in terrorism. Authoritarian right wingers reading this may be pleased to hear that Jimmy Carter could be a criminal under this ruling. They should also be thrilled to know that the Obama administration fought hard for this ruling, and that Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, as solicitor general, argued for this gross encroachment on free speech and the First Amendment.

Again and again, this administration has endorsed and expanded on the Bush administration's consistent stance that the Bill of Rights, apart from the Second Amendment, must take a distant second place to the "war on terror" that by definition can never end. Politicians and pundits who once claimed to believe in civil liberties are in hiding. It speaks volumes about our media today that Jon Stewart is one of the few commentators to speak truth to power on these issues.

So the more I watch Obama channel and extend Bush administration claims of essentially unlimited presidential power, the more I conclude that we have essentially one hope at this point -- and it rests, in part, on an awakening among conservatives who are today so enamored of authoritarian rule.

True civil libertarians of all political persuasions should hope, perversely, that Obama will abuse the powers he's claimed -- and which, given Congress' craven acceptance, appear to be a bipartisan Washington consensus. Moreover, we have to hope that he'll abuse them broadly, against people who support him as well as those who don't, and not just against the Guantanamo prisoners who seem to have dropped off America's radar screen or in several somewhat random cases.

The bipartisan disdain for liberty breaks recent precedent. In the Clinton years, a significant number of Republicans hammered what they believed (accurately in some cases) was the White House's tendency to claim executive powers that they were certain would be abused. Indeed, for a time it was the GOP that defended civil liberties -- hypocritically in many cases, as it was mostly reflexive anti-Clinton paranoia, but useful nonetheless for those of us who were glad to see someone, anyone, pushing back.

During the Bush years, a few Democrats at least talked a good game, decrying the administration's wholesale claims of absolute power. But the Democrats were craven in the extreme when it came to applying actions to words; almost every opportunity they had to take a stand for liberty, they went the other way.

Having turned cowardice into an art form, the Democrats seem to figure it's OK to pander relentlessly to fear and expand presidential power because a good person is in charge at the moment -- and because lots of Democrats have deeply authoritarian impulses as well. The latter may actually be the more important motivation.

What of the Republicans and their allies on the political right? There's a huge amount of fury today about Obama's policies, including what many claim is a takeover of the economy and other dictatorial powers being assumed by the president. Yet while the Limbaughs and Becks and their political followers rant and rave about "the regime" and its excesses, they're applauding every time the administration insists on truly dictatorial authority in matters of national security, a term that has grown and grown in its scope.

This disconnect makes sense only if you assume, as I do, that the right wing has concluded that Obama actually won't abuse his police powers, at least in ways they or their major supporters will find objectionable. They're threading a needle. The right wing's sane leaders must surely fear the possibility that some supporters might actually use their weapons to "take back the country," because that would give Obama a reason to act against them using those police powers. Rather, they must want supporters to get organized at protests and political meetings and ultimately in voting booths. Their goal is for Obama to fail, in ways that have historically led to right-wing surges, so they can get back all three branches of government again. Actual violence by their supporters would make that much more difficult. But the political right is surely licking its chops, confident that when it returns to power there will be absolutely no constraints on their pro-authority agenda.

If that happens, Obama will have given them cover. He, as much as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, will have laid the groundwork for a regime that goes all the way to the edge, if not over it.

Most depressing of all, the majority of the American people would probably welcome such a government. Our preference for the illusion of safety over the recognition and acceptance of risk has only grown. We are a society too afraid of our own shadows to confront reality, I fear. Someday, perhaps as soon as the next successful terrorist attack, we'll get what we seem to want.

Which is why I come back to my perverse hope that Obama will abuse his powers enough to pull enough scales from enough eyes, especially in Washington, to make people understand what history teaches again and again: Untrammeled executive authority only seems like the easier road -- until you're in the way of the bulldozer.

America's Magical Thinking on Energy  

Posted by Big Gav

Time has a look at a poll demonstrating the confused and contradictory beliefs Americans have regarding energy policy - America's Magical Thinking on Energy.

Energy—never has a political topic had so many bold words expended on it with so little to show. As Jon Stewart pointed out in his usual skewering fashion last week, the last eight American presidents promised to move America off oil and onto renewable energy, and all we have to show for it is increasing dependence on foreign petroleum, rising carbon emissions and an out of control gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. Energy is one of those bipartisan issues that any politician can dust off—usually whenever gasoline prices have gotten a little high—promise to change and then promptly drop until the next crisis. Most of our politicians seem to lack what you'd need to really change how America uses energy: the will to take on the strong fossil fuel lobby and the persistence to see changes through over the long-term.

But we all bear responsibility for that failure, because we fail to see—and take—the hard choices that would be necessary. We'd rather live in energy fairyland, as a new New York Times/CBS News poll demonstrates. The poll surveyed the attitudes of Americans—with specific attention on Gulf coast residents—toward the oil spill, energy policy, the economy, President Barack Obama and BP. The news is not good for Obama—the economy and employment remain the top concerns of Americans, bigger than the oil spill, but 54% of the public says he does not have a clear plan for creating jobs, and 48% of the public disapproves of his handling of the economy. 60% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

The frustrating numbers, though, come on energy policy. 59% of Americans polled believe it is very or somewhat likely that within the next 25 years the U.S. will develop an alternative to oil as our major source of energy. That might hearten greens but it also shows how unrealistic Americans are on energy. Right now fossil fuels—coal, oil and natural gas—are responsible for 85% of America's energy supply, and it would take a Herculean effort to displace oil in just a quarter century.

Now, maybe the oil spill means that Americans are finally willing to make that effort. But the other answers on the poll show that's not the case. Even though 58% of Americans believe U.S. energy policy needs a fundamental change, 51% of the public say they'd oppose a gasoline tax that would pay for the development of renewable energy, compared to 45% who would support it. If that tax were set at $1.00 a gallon, the percentage who would favor it drops to 32%. The sole sign that there may be some awareness of where we are on energy—and oil—was the fact that 65% of Americans believe Obama's temporary moratorium on offshore drilling, while an investigation of the Deepwater Horizon accident is carried out, is a good idea. (Although 49% of Gulf coast residents believe it's a bad idea—and bafflingly, more Gulf coast residents than Americans as a whole believe BP will fairly compensate those affected by the spill, despite all the complaints we've heard about the company's claims process.)

BP-Style Extreme Energy Nightmares to Come: Four Scenarios for the Next Energy Mega-Disaster  

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TomDispatch has a new article from Michael Klare on the side effects of peak oil, in the guise of various disaster scenarios for offshore oil production - Michael Klare, The Coming Era of Energy Disasters.

From Tom's introduction:

Isn’t it strange that, no matter how terrible the news from the Gulf, the media still can’t help offering a lurking, BP-influenced narrative of hope? Here’s a recent headline from my hometown paper, for instance: “Signs of Hope as BP Captures Record Oil Amounts.” The piece is based on a BP report that, last Thursday, its woefully inadequate, ill-fitting “top hat” had captured more than 25,000 barrels of the gushing oil -- that is, five times more than it long claimed was spewing from its busted well (25 times more than it originally suggested).

With semi-official estimates in the range of 35,000-60,000 barrels escaping a day (and those numbers regularly on the rise), this represents a strange version of hopeful news. Ominously enough, by the end of July, with a new, larger, “tighter” cap theoretically in place, BP is aiming to capture up to 80,000 barrels a day (that is, 20,000 barrels more than it has publicly acknowledged might possibly be spewing from the floor of the Gulf). In all such articles, the real narrative of hope, however, involves the relief wells, the first of which is now within “200 feet” of the busted well. Usually, the date for one of those wells to plug the leak is given as “early August” or “mid-August” and it’s regularly said that the drilling of those wells is advancing “ahead of schedule.”

Whatever “signs of hope” do exist, however, they’re already badly beslimed by on-gushing reality. On the very day that BP announced its 25,000-barrel capture, huge amounts of methane were also reported to be pouring into the Gulf. Until now, this had evidently been largely overlooked (or under-reported), even though methane in high concentrations can deplete water of its oxygen and so suffocate marine life, creating vast dead zones and inhibiting the natural breakdown of the spilling oil. According to John Kessler, a Texas A&M oceanographer, the Deepwater Horizon spill represents “the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history.”

Meanwhile, if you read carefully, you’ll note that those relief wells are no sure thing. They might not do the job until the fall or even, worst-case scenario, Christmas, or (even-worse-case scenario) they might fail entirely, leaving the well to spew oil and natural gas (with its methane) for an estimated two to four more years. And let’s not forget general bad weather, as well as hurricane season bearing down on the Gulf, the possibility that the well’s casing might be cracking or eroding -- meaning even more spillage or seepage -- and that a “clean-up” in which, in Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s words, the Gulf ecosystem would be “restored and made whole,” may not, as Naomi Klein wrote recently, be “remotely possible, at least not in a time frame we can easily wrap our heads around.”

Will Ivanpah Be The World’s Most Efficient Solar Plant ?  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

TechPulse has a look at some of the operating parameters predicted for the proposed BrightSource solar thermal power plant at Ivanpah in California - Is Ivanpah The World’s Most Efficient Solar Plant?.

BrightSource Energy’s planned Ivanpah plant will be one of the world’s largest solar farms and possibly its most efficient.

When the solar-thermal plant is built on the edge of the Mojave National Preserve (construction is expected to start this year), it will operate at 18 percent efficiency and earn a capacity factor of 30 percent.

This performance should make the 392-MW facility more efficient than plants with crystalline-silicon panels, thin-film cells or rival thermal technologies using parabolic mirrors, according to analysts.

The plant is to be laid out on three nearby tracts covering 3,500 acres of desert and should run at full capacity 10 to 11 hours a day. The company says a back-up natural gas system will aid performance during its long hours of operation, easing power fluctuations on cloudy days. This consistency of power should put electricity costs on par with natural-gas plants, something photovoltaic plants will take another two years to achieve, some analysts say.

While comparing plants is complex and imperfect, the newly available figures from BrightSource make the exercise a useful chore. Sun intensity, atmospheric moisture levels and power transmission costs of course differ plant location to plant location.

But determining who holds the industry’s bragging rights – as well as who deserves project investment dollars – is a task utilities attempt everyday, despite the difficulties.

In an interview, BrightSource Product Manager Andy Taylor described Ivanpah’s efficiency as a sunlight-to-electricity calculation based on two years of testing the company’s Luz Power Tower 550 in Israel’s Negev Desert. At the top of the towers, boilers absorb sunlight reflected from 7-square-meter ground-mounted mirrors and heat water to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the highest temperature in the industry. The super-heated steam drives turbines.

The company says a back-up natural gas system permits the long operating hours and the ability to run most of the day at full capacity. The gas is used to warm boilers in the morning and augment solar power on cloudy days to keep output high.

“We’re pretty much a sun-up-to-sun-down resource,” Taylor says.

BrightSource, which has so far raised more than $300 million in financing, expects the plant’s efficiency to rise as the company moves beyond its first-generation technology. Higher-efficiency turbines are already in the market, and additional mirrors, or heliostats, can be deployed. Water temperatures also will rise to above 1,100 degrees.

In contrast to Ivanpah’s 18 percent efficiency, the efficiency of utility-scale crystalline silicon and thin-film plants is likely less than 12 percent. Solar-thermal plants with parabolic mirrors also have difficulties keeping up. Ivanpah’s higher boiler temperatures give it an advantage, and dual-axis tracking can more accurately follow the sun through the seasons. The average efficiency of other solar thermal plants is 13 to 15 percent, says Cara Libby, project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute.

That doesn’t mean Ivanpah won’t have competition, One crystalline-silicon vendor, SunPower, with industry leading 18 percent efficient solar cells, could give BrightSource a run for its money, says Travis Bradford, president of the public-policy think tank, Prometheus Institute. A SunPower farm with a single axis tracking could have an efficiency of 15 percent, maybe slightly higher depending on the location, he says.

Broader competition will come with falling solar-panels prices, unless a stronger Chinese currency slows the trend. Panel prices tumbled about 40 percent last year and, while they are more stable this year, they continue to decline more rapidly than solar thermal efficiency is improving.

BrightSource responds that plant efficiency is only one measure of performance, and not necessarily the best. Capacity factor, a calculation of a farm’s ability to deliver full power over time, may be more important, the company says.

Ivanpah’s capacity factor (including the use of natural gas) should be 30 percent, Taylor claims. A wind farm in an ideal location (think Tehachapi) can have a factor of 40 percent. Photovoltaic plants generally are lower. A Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center study estimates a PV plant in Arizona should be closer to 20 percent.

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