US and UK to collaborate on ‘floating’ wind turbines

The new technology could allow Britain to harness the consistently higher wind speeds available over deeper water

Hywind: Siemens and StatoilHydro install first floating wind turbine

A floating wind turbine with a capacity of 2.3MW, about 12km south-east of Karmøy, Norway. Photograph: StatoilHydro

The UK and US will work together to develop “floating” wind turbines to harness more offshore wind power at a potentially lower cost, the government said on Monday.

Before this week’s clean-energy meeting of ministers from 23 countries in London, the government announced it will collaborate with the US in developing wind technology to generate power in deep waters that are currently off-limits to conventional turbines.

In order to exploit the UK’s huge wind resource, which accounts for about one-third of Europe’s offshore wind potential, new technology is needed to access waters between 60 and 100 metres deep: too deep for turbines fixed to the seabed, but where wind speeds are consistently higher.

It is hoped that developing the technology will increase the UK’s potential for offshore wind power, particularly after 2020, by which time many shallower sites will have been developed.

The government believes it could also reduce the current high cost of offshore wind, cutting the expense of seabed foundations and allowing repairs on floating wind platforms to be carried out in port rather than out at sea.

The energy secretary, Ed Davey, said: “Britain has more wind turbines installed around its shores than any other country in the world, and our market is rated year after year as the most attractive market among investors. Offshore wind is critical for the UK’s energy future, and there is big interest around the world in what we’re doing.

“The UK and US are both making funding available for this technology, and we’re determined to work together to capitalise on this shared intent.”

The Energy Technologies Institute is commissioning a £25m offshore wind floating system demonstrator, which will require the chosen participants to produce an offshore wind turbine that can generate 5MW to 7MW by 2016. The project could be demonstrated off the Cornish coast at the WaveHub site.

In the US, four offshore projects are being backed by the Department of Energy, potentially including a floating wind demonstration.

Norway already has a full-scale demonstration of a floating wind turbine, while a similar project is underway off Portugal.

This week’s Clean Energy Ministerial will be co-chaired by Davey and his US energy counterpart, Steven Chu. The two countries are signing a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on a series of areas including power generation, energy efficiency and transmission.

The Guardian

Posted in Renewable Energy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Israeli Desert Yields a Harvest of Energy

Yosef Abramowitz, an educator and activist from Boston, co-founded a solar power company at the Ketura kibbutz in Israel.

KETURA, Israel — Arriving at this bone-dry kibbutz in the Arava Desert late one afternoon in August 2006, Yosef Abramowitz, a social activist, Jewish educator and multimedia entrepreneur from Boston, opened the door of his van and was hit by a wall of heat.

“The sun was setting, but it was still burning,” he said. “I remember the sensation.”

Later, unable to sleep, he rose about 5 a.m. and stepped outside as the sun was coming up over the mountains of Jordan. “It was so hot already,” he recalled. “I said to myself, ‘This whole place must work on solar power.’ ”

Then he found out that was not true.

So Mr. Abramowitz, who had spent six months at Ketura in the early 1980s as part of a Young Judaea program, quickly abandoned his plans to spend a quiet family sabbatical with his wife and children in southern Israel. Instead, he went into partnership with Ed Hofland, a businessman from the kibbutz, and David Rosenblatt, an investor and strategist from New Jersey, to found the Arava Power Company, now the leading commercial developer of solar power in Israel.

After more than five years of political and regulatory battles with the Israeli authorities, the company has transformed 20 acres of a sand-colored field on the edge of the communal farm. It now glistens with neat rows of photovoltaic panels from China — 18,600 in all — that harness the sun. There is no smoke, only a slight buzz in the spotless rooms where the panels’ current is turned into electricity that can be fed into the electrical grid. Small openings in the perimeter fence allow animals to cross the field.

Depending on the time of year and rate of energy consumption, this field provides power for as many as five communities.

Siemens, the German conglomerate, was brought in as a partner and invested $15 million, and its Israeli branch built the field. The Jewish National Fund, a century-old Zionist group most associated with planting trees in Israel, made an unusual strategic investment of $3 million in a twist on the early national ideal of trying to make the desert bloom.

In forging a path for commercial solar energy, Mr. Abramowitz said he endured regulatory battles involving two dozen agencies as big as the Israeli Agriculture Ministry and as small as the local planning agency on issues like zoning changes and renewable energy quotas.

Along the way, Mr. Abramowitz — who left the kibbutz for Jerusalem in 2009 but still visits often — became known in Ketura as Captain Sunshine. “He got his nickname, first, because of his sunny personality,” said Elaine Solowey, a member of the kibbutz, “and, second, because anyone who beats the government bureaucracy is a superhero.”

Arava Power’s pioneering work has not gone unnoticed. Other communal farms and communities in the arid reaches of southern Israel are rapidly turning to renewable energy: solar energy is a harvest that does not require irrigation.

Last month, Israel’s Public Utility Authority issued licenses for nine larger solar fields, including a 150-acre site at Ketura that will eventually meet one-third of the peak daytime energy needs in the nearby city of Eilat.

Ketura’s new solar field will be built across the road from the kibbutz in a rift valley between two mountain ranges. The near-constant breeze from the north will naturally cool the backs of the panels, which will face south. With up to 14 hours of sunlight in the summer, an average of only 15 cloudy days a year and access to the national electricity grid nearby, the area has conditions that are perfect for producing solar energy, Mr. Abramowitz said.

“God could not have invented a better place to do solar power,” he said during a recent tour.

Arava Power has entered deals to lease land from numerous farms and communities in southern Israel. It has also teamed up with Bedouins in the Negev Desert: the tribes will lease their lands to Arava Power for solar installations, and the company will provide jobs for the clans. In February, the regulatory authorities granted the first license for an installation on Bedouin-owned land belonging to the Tarabin tribe. Financing for the Bedouin fields is coming from the United States government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

Arava Power expects to grow into a $2 billion enterprise. That is quite a change for a small kibbutz that has mainly lived off its date palms, dairy shed and the salaries of members who work outside the farm.

Ketura was founded in 1973 by 25 idealists, graduates of the Young Judaea Zionist movement, and is known for its socialist values and simple, communal lifestyle. Though the kibbutz has a stake in Arava Power, Mr. Hofland, the company chairman, will not make any personal profit.

The kibbutz is also known for environmental innovation. It operates a high-tech algae farm and is home to the Arava Institute, where Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Americans and others study the environment. The kibbutz’s appreciation for education has resulted in what its secretary general, Sara Cohen, calls “knowledge-based ventures.”

In one such effort, Dr. Solowey domesticates rare plants, including species with medicinal properties, and works on finding new crops for arid and saline lands.

As yet, the prospect of solar power riches has not gone to the heads of the practical farmers who live in Ketura.

“It means having our future accounted for, when we cannot work in the date fields anymore,” Ms. Cohen said. “And our children’s education will be secured.”

Still, she added, “We are not eating filet mignon in the kibbutz dining room yet.”

The New York Times

Posted in Renewable Energy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Renewable Sources of Power Survive, but in a Patchwork

JUST a few years ago, the future of renewable energy looked as bright and shiny as a white turbine blade coming out of the mold. The federal government was handing out money under the stimulus package, states were approving clean energy mandates, young companies were racing ahead with promising new technologies and big global developers were planting stakes for ambitious, utility-scale projects.

Ariana Lindquist/Bloomberg News

Workers climbed a tower at a wind turbine site installed by Renewable Energy SD in Elgin, Minn.

Now that picture has dimmed. The low price of natural gas has made renewable power less appealing to utilities and energy companies. The high price of gasoline — which has become an issue in the presidential campaign, as Republican candidates seek to use it against President Obama, has renewed calls to increase oil exploration and production at the expense of alternatives. State lawmakers are reconsidering requirements for utilities to buy green power. Surprisingly fierce competition from Chinese photovoltaic manufacturers has driven American ventures to the brink of bankruptcy and beyond.

And the problems of Solyndra, a would-be solar panel maker that collapsed despite receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee, have given subsidies for green energy a bad name, which in turn has weakened interest from the private sector in financing it. A tax grant program important to the solar industry has already expired, while a tax credit favored by the wind industry is scheduled to end this year.

“Gas is wiping out every other technology in its path,” said David Crane, chief executive of NRG Energy, a developer that canceled the Bluewater wind park off the Delaware coast last year because it could not find an investment partner. “If renewables had gotten a couple more years of support from the federal government, it would be smooth sailing.”

Yet, though the waters ahead are choppy, with businesses laying off workers and shutting down, the prospects for renewables continue to grow. Major companies like General Electric, Dow Chemical and ConocoPhillips are developing or investing in new technologies. Many projects — some rushing to start in time to qualify for federal tax breaks before they disappear — are going forward.

And the Obama administration has been using some of its powers to promote clean energy, taking steps to open public lands and waters to private development of solar and wind power, while the Defense Department has been aggressively pursuing alternatives, both for its bases and for forces in the field. Late last year, for instance, SolarCity, a company based in San Mateo, Calif., announced that Bank of America Merrill Lynch was lending it up to $350 million to install enough panels to power 120,000 military homes.

Many business executives, policy analysts and investors say there is a robust future for domestic solar energy distributed in medium-size arrays and on commercial and residential rooftops, especially in markets with high electricity prices or strong mandates, like Hawaii, California and much of the Northeast.

The low cost of solar panels, whose average price dropped 50 percent last year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, has helped. So have new financing methods that allow owners to lease systems long term, cutting their current electricity costs with little or no upfront investment. Last year, about 1,855 megawatts of new photovoltaic capacity was installed, according to a report by the association, more than double the 887 megawatts of the year before.

Despite having lost the program that allowed developers to recoup 30 percent of their costs as a cash grant, the solar industry is still eligible through 2016 for a tax credit to be taken over five years, making its future seem in some ways more solid than that of the wind power industry, even though it far outstrips solar already.

“There’s a great environment for solar for the next four years, and wind potentially falls off a cliff at the end of 2012,” said John Ewen, head of investment banking at Ardour Capital, which focuses on energy, referring to a wind power production tax credit that has been in place since 1992 but is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Part of the appeal of solar power as a long-term investment, he said, was that the sun’s cost as a fuel was predictable and essentially free.

“It’s clearly a better credit to bet on the sun coming up tomorrow than the price of natural gas,” he said.

Although wind has some of the same advantages, development faces a different set of challenges. Unlike solar power, which can operate efficiently on a small scale, wind projects often make economic sense only if they are huge, but they can end up generating electricity far from where it is needed, throwing up the political, logistical and parochial hurdles of streaming electrons across county and state lines.

Still, plans for enormous projects are beginning to move ahead. One such project, by Clean Line Energy, which develops high-voltage transmission lines, would create enough capacity to take 3,500 megawatts of wind power from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota to Illinois and states to the east.

With national energy policy bedeviled — and without a controlled market like China’s or the feed-in tariffs that have driven the use of renewables in Europe (to mixed results) — the United States is developing into a green-energy crazy quilt, a kind of regional patchwork driven by mandates.

“There’s a coalition of the willing here among states and regions that already have parts of these policies, and it does seem to be the U.S. tradition to have diverse, often-conflicting policies state by state,” said Daniel M. Kammen, a professor of energy, nuclear engineering and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. “This is kind of a chaotic picture moving in the right direction.”

So New Jersey, which has a robust set of solar incentives and a relatively strong state mandate for clean power, has become the nation’s second-biggest solar market (after California) and the national leader in commercial rooftop photovoltaic installations. But in Georgia, where the main utility says it has the sole authority to sell electricity, small-scale solar power has not flourished because property owners must purchase systems themselves rather than lease them from companies like Sunrun for a monthly fee.

Hawaii has made itself into a multi-island energy laboratory, experimenting with everything it can, including wave, wind, solar and biomass sources. California is to start a carbon market in November. And New Mexico is expected to be home to Tres Amigas, a kind of electricity hub that is to connect three United States grids and integrate power from solar, wind and geothermal sources by 2014.

How all this plays out remains to be seen. “This industry is going through a transformation and elements of it are going to probably be fairly disruptive, but I think it’s kind of inevitable that a lot of these things are going to unfold,” said Theodore F. Craver, Jr., chief executive of Edison International, whose subsidiaries include electric power generators and Southern California Edison, one of the nation’s largest utilities. “Getting the timing right, figuring out exactly what direction some of these changes are going to take — of course that’s the big question.”

The New York Times

Posted in Renewable Energy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

World’s biggest wind farm planned for off south coast of England

The world’s biggest wind farm is being planned off England’s south coast.

Military radar deal paves way for more wind farms across Britain

In 2010, the Crown Estate, which manages the sea bed off Britain’s coastline, held an auction to develop large scale, offshore wind farms around the UK Photo: REX FEATURES

The development comprises 200 turbines, each the height of a skyscraper and spread over an area the size of Glasgow.

The planned wind farm, which is three to four times bigger than any previously built, is expected to earn its Dutch owners Eneco more than a quarter of a billion pounds a year in subsidies alone.

The scheme has already attracted widespread criticism with opponents claiming it will ruin coastal views for generations to come. The Royal Yacht Squadron, the world’s most prestigious sailing club whose patron is the Queen and which is headed by the Duke of Edinburgh, is also orchestrating a campaign against it.

It fears the wind farm could impact on the main sailing route from the Isle of Wight to the south west, including the Fastnet Race, which starts in Cowes and finishes in Plymouth.

Eneco has submitted notice of its plans – in a 173-page report – to a special Government body set up to deal with ‘national significant’ infrastructure projects.

A full planning application for the Navitus Bay wind farm is expected next year with the decision process taking a further 18 months.

Eneco’s preplanning report suggests each turbine could be as high as 670 feet – taller than the Gherkin skyscraper in London – and as close as eight miles to the coast. Eneco claims it will provide power for anywhere between 500,000 and 800,000 homes.

In 2010, the Crown Estate, which manages the sea bed off Britain’s coastline, held an auction to develop large scale, offshore wind farms around the UK.

As a result, nine giant wind farms are in the planning pipeline with the Eneco project likely to cause the most controversy because of its proximity to shore and its location close to the tourist resorts of Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight, as well as the “Jurassic Coast”, which has been designated as a World Heritage Site, by Unesco, the United Nations’ cultural committee.

One of the wind farms planned could be even larger – covering an area half the size of Wales. However, it is 100 miles from the east coast of England, at Dogger Bank. It could earn as much as £3.6 billion pound a year through consumer subsidies for its owners Forewind, a consortium of British, German and Norwegian energy companies.

Another wind farm, smaller than Navitus bay, is planned off the coast of Hastings and another of similar size to Navitus bay, close to the Bristol Channel.

Last week it emerged that a controversial onshore 103-turbine wind farm on moorland on Shetland had been approved, while another scheme is being planned for Thornton Moor, Yorkshire, which provided the inspiration for Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.

The campaign against the Navitus Bay wind farm, which will occupy 76 square miles of the English Channel between the Isle of Wight and the Dorset coast, is being spearheaded by the Royal Yacht Squadron, which is based in Cowes.

It has written to 200 sailing clubs on the Isle of Wight and along the south coast calling for concerted action against the development.

Prince Philip has previously branded the wind industry “a disgrace”, and accused turbines of “being useless” and “completely reliant on subsidies”, though his remarks were targeted primarily at onshore turbines.

Chris Mason, the Royal Yacht Squadron’s yachting secretary, said: “We understand renewable energy is important but it is very difficult to see why it has to be built this close to the land.

“This is prime sailing territory. This is definitely a hazard and definitely a problem for sailors.” Mr Mason said he had no idea if Prince Philip, who is the squadron’s admiral and as such its head, had been consulted before the letter had been sent out.

Chris Radford, who runs the Challenge Navitus campaign group, said: “Navitus is eight miles from the shore and the turbines could be 200 metres high.

“This could damage an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a World Heritage site and a great public amenity. There are also potentially damaging effects on tourism, safe navigation, diving and fishing interests.

“Nothing on this scale has previously been built so close to a tourist area. We think these risks are out of balance with the suggested benefits from wind power. This development could be further offshore or somewhere else with less impact.” The campaigners have complained that Eneco’s only Dutch wind farm is twice the distance from shore while the turbines are only 320ft high.

Eneco defended its proposed wind farm, pointing it would create jobs as well as provide sustainable electricity to power as many as 800,000 homes. The company said the size and number of turbines has yet to be decided while the majority would be at least 12 miles from shore in waters between 100 and 150ft deep.

Guy Madgwick, managing director of Eneco Wind UK, Eneco’s UK division, said: “We are now in the consultation phase which will run to the end of next year. Eneco takes community consultation and community opinion very seriously.

“Probably more seriously than any of the Big Six [energy companies] in this country.”

Navitus bay is expected to cost £3 billion to build with a lifespan of 25 years.

Mr Madgwick said it was impossible to know how big the subsidy would be because the Government was changing payment rules, brought in by the Labour government to encourage renewable energy projects.

The Crown Estate manages the assets of the monarch although its assets are not the Queen’s private property and cannot be sold.

It is run as a business and all profits go to the Treasury, while the monarch receives a fixed payment, via the Civil List.

From 2013, however, the Civil List will be scrapped in favour a Sovereign Support Grant based on a share of profits from the Crown Estate, linking its performance directly to the Queen’s funding.

The organisation has invested £100 million in supporting the nine giant wind farm applications, but could earn far more than that should the wind farms get built.

It will take a slice of the revenue, believed to be somewhere between one and two per cent.

A spokeswoman said: “We are leading the world in off shore wind power. We have a fantastic pipeline of projects and because of that we are growing inward investments in to the UK from all over the world and tens of thousands of jobs are being created.

“Other countries have come to the UK and now want to copy what we have done.”

The scale of the subsidy has been calculated by the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF), a think tank which is highly critical of the cost of wind power.

Dr Lee Moroney, from the foundation, said: “Developers are proposing to submit plans for 25,000MW of offshore wind in 2012 alone, which is nearly four times the total of all wind farms built in the UK to date.

“Even if only a fraction are approved, this explosion in offshore wind development will saddle consumers with a multi-billion pound subsidy cost far into the future.”

The Telegraph

Posted in Renewable Energy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

£20m wave energy competition unveiled

The prize money will be shared between two winners, who will develop the first wave and tidal devices to sit in array formation

Pelamis renewable energy wave power generator,

Marine energy companies such as Pelamis, the manufacturer of this wave ‘snake’, could win a share of a new £20m government prize announced on Thursday. Photograph: Pelamis

Companies making devices that generate renewable energy from the ebb and flow of tides and waves around the UK could win a share of a new £20m government prize announced on Thursday.

It is hoped the scheme, the Marine Energy Array Demonstrator (Mead), will encourage growth in the industry, which has been struggling to create a commercially viable projects. Ministers believe wave and tidal power could in the future generate up to 20% of Britain’s energy needs and create 10,000 jobs in the sector.

The energy and climate change minister, Greg Barker, claimed Mead would help move the industry into the next stage of development. “This will take us one vital step closer to realising our ambitions of generating electricity from the waves and tides, powering homes and businesses across the whole of the UK with clean, green electricity,” he said.

The prize money will be shared between two winners, who will develop the first wave and tidal devices to sit in array formation – much like clusters of wind turbines create a windfarm.

Pelamis, a leading wave technology company based in Scotland, said it intended to enter the competition. A spokesperson for the Scottish-based company said: “The prize will provide much needed capital support to the industry. The increasing activity and utility support demonstrates a real excitement within the sector as the technology matures towards commercial deployments.”

As an island situated in choppy waters, Britain is well placed to become a world leader in wave and tidal technology. Of the eight full scale prototype devices installed around the world, seven are in UK waters, and about half of the world’s leading marine technology companies are based here. But there is a growing fear that Britain will lose its early lead in the race to harness the power of the sea.

In February MPs called on the government to increase their support of wind and wave technology, claiming the UK could be overtaken by competing countries if it did not continue to provide subsidies and support to the industry.

The funding was welcomed by the UK’s professional body for the renewable wind and marine industry, RenewableUK. David Krohn, the organisation’s wave and tidal development manager, said: “The marine energy industry has the potential to allow us to generate clean electricity using the inexhaustible power of the sea. The Mead scheme will help kickstart the industry.”

Yet Krohn claimed more money would still be needed if marine technology was to reach its full potential. “Our research shows that £120m of capital support is required to overcome barriers to commercial development and unlock our share of this global industry,” he said. “It is important to recognise that this is only the beginning of the road to building marine energy into a fully commercial industry.”

Pelamis agreed further support was needed. “To truly support marine renewables through to commercialisation will require project investors to be able to access substantially larger amounts of Government support over the coming years.”

Companies can enter the competition online via the Decc website. The closing date for applications is 1 June 2012.

The Guardian

Posted in Renewable Energy | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Ignacio Galán: We need balanced and honest debate over future energy supplies

It seems few things arouse passions these days like energy and how it affects us all. And so it should – it’s imperative that we have an honest and balanced debate on energy policy so that we take the right decisions before it’s too late.

Military radar deal paves way for more wind farms across Britain

Wind can play a major role in meeting Britain’s energy goals.

We have a lively debate in Spain, where we are striving to get the right balance in our solar energy subsidies, and there most certainly is one in the UK with the pressing need to secure the country’s energy needs. This endeavour comes against a background of underinvestment, obsolete infrastructure and lengthy planning procedures.

We welcome this debate in the UK, where we are investing in generation and distribution. But with energy sector investment projected as high as £200bn this decade, we must have a framework that guarantees sufficient returns and the right generation mix. The Government has launched its Electricity Market Reform (EMR), providing a regulatory framework for new generation projects, but there are still issues to be resolved affecting wind and nuclear. Regulatory uncertainty will make it harder to borrow from capital markets or persuade pension funds to invest.

It’s worth remembering that half of Britain’s power plants will need to be replaced by 2020 and the grid needs upgrading to provide access for new supplies. The options for avoiding shortages are basically coal, gas, nuclear, hydro and wind. Each has its pros and cons but each has a role to play. Coal is available, but pollutes and won’t help Britain to meet its emissions targets. Gas is cheap and quick to build, but carries with it a reliance on imports and the vagaries of the oil price. Hydro is relatively reliable but there are few available new sites. Nuclear offers continuous supply but is costly to build with a lengthy development phase. Wind is abundant and indigenous, but can be intermittent.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix, and the answer lies in a balanced energy mix, with the right incentives in place. We operate all these energy sources, and among them wind is significant. It’s not a holy grail for us, but is reliable, clean and cheap to run. It’s true wind farms are capital intensive in development but thereafter are the cheapest low-carbon energy source, and the cost to consumers is relatively low. For the times when the wind doesn’t blow, a system of capacity payments should be available for gas plants as backup supply.

The UK is fortunate to possess some of the best wind, wave and tidal resources in the world off its coasts. Offshore wind is more productive than onshore, and while the costs are currently greater, technology and designs are advancing with bigger turbines whose costs are coming down.

We are developing some major offshore wind development zones, which we view as a complement to tried and tested onshore installations. We’re also testing new marine energy technologies such as wave and tidal power. And we continue to advance on plans for a new nuclear plant at Moorside together with GDF Suez.

The development plans our group and others are progressing will have a positive impact on jobs and growth. In the UK, we plan to invest £12 bn during the current decade and Ofgem’s fast-tracking of our transmission programme will create up to 1,500 jobs. Offshore is another good example, where port infrastructure is needed in the supply chain, potentially creating thousands of jobs for British companies.

But for these developments to take place, we need the right political and regulatory environment with a number of preconditions, including:

· A solid consensus of public opinion behind policies that must be applied for years to come and probably by different governments.

· Faster planning and approval processes

· Rapid progress on EMR to establish the right conditions to attract investment

· Early deployment of the supply chain to kick-start manufacturing, infrastructure growth and job creation.

Wind can play a major role in meeting Britain’s energy goals and provide an engine for growth and jobs through the supply chain. Though reservations have been expressed in the UK, a YouGov survey found 56pc of the public backed more investment in wind power. This is truly a great opportunity to channel jobs and investments and provide a legacy for future generations of reduced fossil fuel dependence, even if it means costs in the short-term. It would be irresponsible to squander these opportunities by polarising what should be a constructive debate.

The Telegraph

Posted in Renewable Energy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Softbank plans huge Hokkaido solar plant

Softbank Corp. has selected Tomakomai, Hokkaido, as the site for Japan’s largest solar power plant, with an output capacity of at least 200,000 kw, industry sources said Wednesday.

Softbank subsidiary SB Energy Corp. is planning the facility in anticipation of cashing in on the government system that starting in July will oblige power utilities to purchase electricity from renewable energy sources generated by households and other firms.

The plant will have a maximum output capacity of 340,000 kw to cover some 100,000 households, and SB Energy is negotiating with Hokkaido Electric Power Co. over electricity purchases through the so-called feed-in tariff system, according to the sources.

The utility has responded that it can accept some 200,000 kw, based on the existing infrastructure for electricity delivery, they said.

Softbank, an Internet and telecommunications powerhouse, plans to install solar panels at a 480-hectare site on the waterfront of an industrial district in eastern Tomakomai, the sources said.

The company announced in early March that it was setting up solar power plants in Kyoto, Gunma and Tokushima prefectures, but the size of the plant in Tomakomai far exceeds the others. The Kyoto facility will have a capacity to produce 4,200 kw, the Gunma plant 2,400 kw and the Tokushima site 5,600 kw.

The government has yet to finalize the price of electricity generated by renewable energy sources. But if the price is set to a level that is profitable, more companies may consider building facilities that generate electricity from renewable energy sources, industry observers say.

Softbank and Hokkaido Electric will finalize when to begin the construction of the Tomakomai facility, as well as its output capacity and the amount of power to be purchased once the government finalizes the electricity price.

If the government sets the price below ¥40 per kwh, the amount believed necessary to generate a decent profit, the company may have to consider reducing the size of the plant.

No Tepco bonuses?

Tokyo Electric Power Co. is considering skipping summer bonuses for employees this year in an apparent bid to deflect criticism over its recent rate hike for corporate users, company sources said Tuesday.

Following the nuclear disaster at its Fukushima No. 1 power plant, Tepco cut the annual salaries of its employees, excluding those in managerial positions, by 20 percent. However, it paid both their summer and winter bonuses last year.

Those in managerial positions saw a 25 percent cut in their annual salaries.

Tepco is facing increased pressure to cut costs as part of efforts to finance massive compensation payments related to the nuclear crisis.

By showing greater efforts to reduce expenses, Tepco is hoping not only to soothe the anger of customers affected by the rate hike but also to secure approval for a fee increase for households starting in July.

The hikes are intended to help Tepco deal with increased fuel costs for thermal power generation.

The Japan Times

Posted in Renewable Energy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Europe’s Way of Encouraging Solar Power Arrives in the U.S.

Solar cells adorn the roofs of many homes and warehouses across Germany, while the bright white blades of wind turbines are a frequent sight against the sky in Spain.

Homes with solar panels in Germany, where homeowners are paid to produce green energy.

If one day these machines become as common on the plains and rooftops of the United States as they are abroad, it may be because the financing technique that gave Europe an early lead in renewable energy is starting to cross the Atlantic.

Put simply, the idea is to pay homeowners and businesses top dollar for producing green energy. In Germany, for example, a homeowner with a rooftop solar system may be paid four times more to produce electricity than the rate paid to a coal-fired power plant.

This month Gainesville, Fla., became the first city in the United States to introduce higher payments for solar power, which is otherwise too expensive for many families or businesses to install. City leaders, who control their electric utility, unanimously approved the policy after studying Germany’s solar-power expansion.

Hawaii, where sky-high prices for electricity have stirred interest in alternative forms of power like solar, hopes to have a similar policy in place before the end of the year. The mayor of Los Angeles wants to introduce higher payouts for solar power. California is considering a stronger policy as well, and bills have also been introduced in other states, including Washington and Oregon.

“I’m seeing it with my own eyes — it’s really having a good effect on our local economy, particularly in these hard times,” said Edward J. Regan, the assistant general manager for strategic planning at Gainesville Regional Utilities in Florida. He said he had gotten calls from other cities and states since announcing the policy.

The new payment method is referred to as a “feed-in tariff” in Europe. It is, in essence, a mandate by the government telling a utility to pay above-market rates for green electricity.

It shifts the burden of subsidizing green energy from taxpayers, as is common in the United States, to electricity ratepayers. And the technique includes assurances that a utility will pay the high rates for a long period, often 15 to 25 years.

The surge of interest in the payment system is a recognition that despite generous state and federal incentives, the United States still lags far behind Europe in solar power. Germany, where feed-in tariffs have been in place since 1991, has about five times as many photovoltaic panels installed as the United States, though they still account for only 0.5 percent of electricity in that country.

In the United States, said Wilson Rickerson, a Boston energy consultant, “a lot of people simultaneously reached the conclusion — who’s moving fastest internationally? And that’s definitely been Germany and Spain.”

In Gainesville, the new policy has already sparked a rush to put up panels. John Stanton, a retired civil servant living there with his wife, put 24 solar panels on his roof in late January, as city leaders sped the policy toward approval. Gainesville’s municipal utility will pay Mr. Stanton and other homeowners and businesses who generate solar power more than twice the standard electricity rate, guaranteeing that rate for 20 years.

“It was the thing that sort of put us over the top,” said Mr. Stanton, who gained an appreciation of European energy policies after living in Italy for more than a decade.

Mr. Regan said that homeowners with panels received a payment under the new policy that works out to more than a 25 percent premium over the city’s other incentives, which include rebates and a more modest rate payment.

Wind power and other sources of renewable energy are generally included in the European payment systems, but solar — as one of the costliest renewables — has benefited the most. Payment rates in Europe for wind are substantially lower than for solar, according to Christian Kjaer, chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association.

In the United States, solar panels remain prohibitively expensive — a big reason that the panels account for far less than 1 percent of electricity generation. Generating power from the sun using rooftop panels can cost four times as much as coal, the largest and cheapest source of electricity in this country.

If a utility commits to paying a higher rate for renewable power over a period of years, it can offer those with solar panels or wind turbines a steady return that helps defray the initial cost of the equipment. “If you put your money in, you know you’re going to get it back,” Mr. Rickerson said, referring to Germany.

But requiring utilities to pay extra for green power has a direct impact on ratepayers. Homeowners’ electricity bills will rise 74 cents a month in Gainesville, or about half a percentage point of the average homeowner’s monthly bill.

“Seventy cents — what’s that? A Coke?” said Mr. Regan, of the Gainesville utility.

Opponents of feed-in tariffs like Marcel Hawiger, a staff attorney for the Utility Reform Network in California, say that the policy would hit poor people the hardest by raising their electricity rates because a relatively high percentage of their income goes to pay utility bills.

“Why should we use regressive taxation to support the most expensive form of renewable energy?” Mr. Hawiger asked.

The solar programs have sometimes proved so popular that costs can spiral out of control. Last fall, blockbuster growth forced Spain to cap the number of solar installations it would subsidize. Ontario, which has had a feed-in tariff since 2006, also suspended its program last year after being oversubscribed, but wants to restart the policy.

Even in Gainesville, homeowners wanting to put solar panels on their roof are now out of luck: a few days after introducing the policy, the city reached its cap on solar payments for this year and next. Meanwhile, a handful of utilities around the country are already doing similar things voluntarily, albeit on a tiny scale.

For now, at least, solar-power advocates do not believe they have the votes in Congress to adopt a national feed-in tariff system like the ones in Germany and Spain. They are putting their hopes, instead, on proposals in Congress to mandate that a certain percentage of electricity comes from renewables.

The New York Times

Posted in Renewable Energy | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Smaller Route to Solar Success

At Aora's existing plant in Almería, Spain, mirrors focus the sun’s energy on a modest tower where the heat is captured and used to spin a turbine. After the sun goes down, a conventional fuel can be used instead.
AoraAt Aora’s plant in Almería, Spain, mirrors focus the sun’s energy on a modest tower where the heat is captured and used to spin a turbine. In the evening, a fuel can be used.

There are at least a dozen major ways to turn sunlight into electricity, but one of the more interesting is using a field of mirrors to focus the sun’s energy on a “power tower” where the heat is captured and used later to spin a turbine and turn a generator. As I have previously written, two companies are now planning to build such systems in the desert Southwest with hardware that will store the heat for a rainy day or for the period right after sunset when power demand is still high.

But now comes a new player with a different concept: build the tower, but on a smaller, simpler scale, and skip the storage in favor of using using biogas or natural gas to power the system after dark.

The new player, Aora, has two systems running, one on a kibbutz in southern Israel and the other in Almería, Spain. It hopes to announce soon that it will be building several more in Arizona.

The basic unit planned there is an array of about 50 mirrors focused on a tower that rises 115 feet. It produces 100 kilowatts of electricity, which is enough to run about 100 window air conditioners.

The competition is hundreds of times larger. The two companies already in business in this field in the United States are BrightSource, which also has Israeli roots, and SolarReserve. Their towers are hundreds of feet high and surrounded by thousands of mirrors, and they produce power at the level of tens or hundreds of megawatts. (A megawatt is approximately the level of energy used by a Super Wal-Mart, and a big coal plant generates about 600 megawatts.)

For example, BrightSource has a power plant in Coalinga, Calif., that produces 13 megawatts of electricity with a 327-foot tower. It is building another project with 500-foot towers and has plans for another with 700-foot towers. These would be surrounded by thousands of heliostats, or devices equipped with mirrors that redirect the sun.

The giant towers heat water into steam or heat molten salt that will be used to boil steam; the steam flows through a turbine that converts the heat energy to rotational movement that drives a generator. Plants running on coal or nuclear energy do the same thing with the steam they make.

Aora, on the other hand, heats ordinary air that then expands and spins a gas turbine that resembles a jet engine. During periods when there is no sun, the system injects a hydrocarbon fuel, which can be ordinary natural gas, methane from a landfill, propane or a variety of other substances to expand the gas and spin the turbine.

One advantage of using air instead of steam is that the air can simply be vented, whereas the steam has to be converted back to water for reuse. “Where you have the best sunlight, you have the least amount of water’’ available locally, Aora’s chief executive, Zev Rosenzweig, noted. His design does require water for washing the mirrors, however, and if the outdoor air temperature is high, it needs some water to cool the air and make it more dense before it can be compressed by heat to drive the turbine.

For solar, the big issue is the early evening: “Solar bows out at 5 p.m., Mr. Rosenzweig noted. But that’s when peak demand begins — people come home, turn on the air conditioner full blast, put dinner in the oven or microwave and turn on television sets in the ensuing hours, he said. Rather than building a system with storage, which requires an oversize gathering system to take in more sun than is required for instant generation, Aora decided that it was easier to equip its system to burn natural gas, using most of the original hardware.

While the system has potential for further growth, one question is what to do with the hot air that is expelled from the turbine. There is not quite enough of it to boil water to make steam for electricity, but it could have a variety of uses, including driving an air-conditioning system. In that sense, a small modular design has advantages over a mega-project. In the California desert, there is a market for electricity, which can be easily shipped, but there is not much market for waste heat.

The New York Times

Posted in Renewable Energy | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

US to impose tariff on Chinese solar panels in victory for domestic makers

American solar panel manufactuers welcome Obama administration decision, saying it exposes unfair trade practices

Solar panels

Chinese companies have acknowledged receiving cheap loans and other government support. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

The Obama administration, which regularly champions America’s clean energy industry, has delivered modest support for home-grown solar panel makers complaining of unfair competition from China

In a much-anticipated decision, the commerce department on Tuesday said it would impose tariffs of 2.9% to 4.73% on Chinese-made solar panels, after finding the Beijing government was providing illegal subsidies to manufacturers.

The commerce department could impose heavier penalties in May, when it is due to decide whether China is dumping solar panels at prices below their actual cost.

But Tuesday’s move did not suggest the Obama adminstration is willing to risk a trade war with China in support of struggling solar panel manufacturers.

Domestic solar panel makers, who had requested the tariffs, welcomed the decision, saying it had helped expose unfair Chinese trade practices.

“Today’s announcement affirms what US manufacturers have long known: Chinese manufacturers have received unfair and WTO-illegal subsidies,” Steve Ostrenga, an executive who is a member of the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing, said in a statement. “We look forward to addressing all of China’s unfair trade practices in the solar industry.”

Solar installation companies, whose business relies on Chinese-made panels, expressed relief that the small tariffs would not drive up costs.

“This is a huge victory for the US solar industry and our 100,000 employees,” said Jigar Shah, president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy. “Given all our expectations, this is really good news.”

But there were some suggestions that the Obama administration was sending a mixed message on its support for the renewable energy industry.

Some industry executives had hoped for a greater show of support from the administration – even at the risk of causing a trade rift with China.

Obama, in the White House and on the campaign trail, has regularly held up the renewable energy industry as an example of American innovation – noting that solar power was invented at Bell Labs. But China has now taken the lead, with more than 700 manufacturers of solar panels.

A few of those Chinese companies have acknowledged receiving cheap loans and other government support.

But low-cost solar panels are also helping some sections of America’s clean energy industry.

The energy secretary, Steven Chu, who was grilled on his department’s support for solar power in Congress earlier Tuesday, proudly noted during his testimony that America overtook China in clean energy investment last year.

The US made $56bn in clean energy investment in 2011, overtaking China, which invested $47.4bn. Much of the US investment represented the tail end of the 2009 recovery act funds.

What Chu left unmentioned, however, was that the growth of the US clean energy industry was led by the plummeting costs of Chinese-made solar panels, which brought solar farms closer to the cost of electricity generated from fossil fuels.

American imports of Chinese solar panels have grown exponentially in recent years, from $21.3m in 2005 to $2.65bn last year.

But cheap Chinese solar panels have also put American solar panel makers out of business – and proved a political embarrassment for the Obama adminstration.

The most high profile failure – and the one with the biggest political fallout – was the collapse of Solyndra, which declared bankruptcy after receiving half a billion dollars in department of energy loans.

Another loan recipient, Evergreen Solar, embarrassed the administration by announcing plans to move production from Massachusetts to China because of lower costs. The company ended up going bankrupt.

However, those failures still provided fodder to Republicans in Congress and candidates seeking the party’s nomination to attack Obama for his support for clean energy.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment